Father Joseph Bredder, the Los Angeles Franciscan priest detective, who had been a professional boxer then seen service as a decorated sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, is the creation of Leonard Holton (1915-1983), whose real name was Leonard (Patrick O'Connor) Wibberly, but who also wrote under the names of Patrick O'Connor and Christpher Webb. Born in Dublin, he worked as a reporter in London before moving to the USA in 1943 and finally settling in California. He led an adventurous life, travelling all over the world as a journalist. He married in in 1948, and had two daughters and four sons. He produced over a hundred books of which the best known is probably The Mouse that Roared (1955), a satire about a tiny European state that declared war on the USA, that was made into a film featuring Peter Sellers in 1959. He also published over 50 children's books.
As Leonard Holton, he wrote the 11 Father Joseph Bredder mystery novels. He explained that "I'm not fond of bashing people around or shooting them, and casual sex I disagree with. On the other hand I have no real talent for the threads of detail which form the smooth and satisfactory web of the detective story as written by women writers. It occurred to me then that I had to devise a nonfussy and nonviolent sort of detective - a detective with an entirely different personality and motivation from the usual private eye; although on reflection few of them are usual. This decided me that if I made my detective a priest I could give my stories a background and quality others lacked - a spiritual quality."
The Saint Maker (1959)
The Father Bredder novels are short, fast-moving and full of action. The first book, The Saint Maker, begins promisingly with Father Bredder trying to make peace with the rather cold, disapproving Reverend Mother of the convent (to which he is chaplain) by sending her a present of a melon. Unfortunately, though, she discovers that what the bag actually contains is a woman's head. "An older priest of gentler upbringing than (40 year old) Father Bredder, Reverend Mother thought, would never have become mixed up with a murder." But, for Father Bredder, "Murder is a crime that cries, not merely for vengeance, but far more important, it cries for repentance. And I must do what I can to find the murderer and bring him or her to repentance for the salvation of his soul". There's plenty of humor too, as when the police start making enquiries about Father Bredder with the result that an assortment of small-time crooks whom he has helped in one way or another, all come sidling up to him to offer to help him flee the country.
A Pact With Satan (1960)
A Pact With Satan is another very short fast-moving story, which certainly holds the interest. It's all about a couple who are burnt to death and how, by acting as bait, Father Bredder helps Lieutenant Minardi find the murderer. Parts of the book may seem old-fashioned now (Father Bredder felt "gratitude to his Creator that such small comforts as tobacco had been provided for man to cheer him during his time on earth" but he also "lived in the belief that he was more often wrong than right"). He also believes quite literally in the presence of Satan ("Satan was real - not a figment of mediaeval imagination. He had possessed people in Christ's time on earth, and he was capable of possessing them in this day as well.") and struggles to convince the condemned murderer in his cell "that having abandoned his Creator, he would spend eternity in torture unless he repented". And he does repent at the very last minute. It isn't what you'd call very profound theology - but it's a good story.
Secret of the Doubting Saint (1961)
In Secret of the Doubting Saint, Father Bredder gets involved in the death of a millionaire TV producer and the disappearance of a fabulous diamond. "Murder," he tells his friend Lieutenant Minardi, "begins with something we cannot define by known methods - a thought or an emotion - and it ends in a killing. You, as a detective, have to look for a bullet but the bullet was inevitable once the thought came into being and flourished, so you should really be looking for a thought".
Father Bredder is an engaging character who believes that "Christianity was not primarily a worship for decent and respectable people, but the last desperate refuge of the driven out and the lost". "You know what's the matter with you?", his friend Minardi tells him, "You can't get the kingdom of heaven and the crooks of Los Angeles disentangled one from the other." "Of course not," said the priest. "Because the crooks of Los Angeles are potential candidates for the kingdom of heaven." But, although Father Bredder's beliefs are his constant motivation, that doesn't stop the books being well-told crime novels in their own right - and they are easy and fun to read.
Deliver Us from Wolves (1963)
Deliver Us from Wolves gets off to a promising start with Father Breddder on his way to the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, where he is on an unexpected holiday. He is unimpressed by all the tawdry Fatima souvenirs on offer, but he likes the simple chapel: "The building was like a prayer - not the elaborate prayers of the great saints, but the simple prayers of the poor, devoid of rhetoric and posture or intellectual brilliancy; humble and trusting .... He did not even need words (to pray there) but felt that all he needed to say was communicated immediately to his Creator".
But then Bredder surprisingly gets sent by the local bishop to a remote village, complete with mediaeval castle, recalcitrant locals, an unlikely English priest, an elegant countess with a passion for motor-racing, and even a possible werewolf. Father Bredder doesn't write werewolves off: "I believe that men, tempted by Satan, can take on the nature and appetite of animals .... I believe that they can utterly surrender themselves to the animal in their natures, excluding the God in their natures. And in that sense, that I regard as the truest of all possible senses, I believe in werewolves, and I think the prayer 'Deliver us from wolves' is a proper prayer and one to which God would listen." However, after a dramatic attempted murder down in a dungeon, the eventual solution turns out to be more mundane.
Flowers by Request (1964)
In Flowers by Request, Father Bredder is back on more familiar ground with sinister characters like Willie the Coffin, the Senator, and the Sicilian (two of whom get shot), and other Mafia involvement. There's lots of humor in the story and the result is highly entertaining, as when Father Bredder sets about looking for a bass section to add to his convent choir. He ends up with a prize fighter, a broken-down boxer, a taxi driver with flat feet, and a professional ex-juvenile delinquent. They do him proud - and after a boxing promoter writes to the Vatican, he even takes part in a boxing match himself to raise funds to pay for rebuilding the organ.
It all gets rather confusing for Bredder, but as he says: "The more confusing things become, the closer we are to a solution. Confusion is only the state of getting rid of untruths so as to prepare oneself for the recognition and acceptance of the truth. Even in finding God we are confused first".
Out of the Depths (1966)
Out of the Depths is a strong story about a murdered scuba diver and a missing atomic formula, in which Father Bredder himself becomes a suspect. When he takes up scuba diving, he too is almost murdered, so there is no lack of action. His friend Lieutenant Minardi reminds him: "The significance of a crime is that a law has been broken and it is the job of the police to discover who broke the law and punish him to discourage others." "The significance of a crime is that a law of God, exemplified in the formation of society, has been broken and the crime remains until the offender repents," said Father Bredder. "The state will pass away. God will not."
A Touch of Jonah (1968)
In ATouch of Jonah, Father Bredder is asked to join the crew of the luxury yacht Fair Maid on the famous Transpac race from San Pedro, California to Honolulu. This is something that the author, a keen yachtsman, had once attempted himself, and he writes from obvious first-hand experience: "Rig the forestay-sail," says owner and captain Sir Harry Stockton. "I will take her up to the line, jibe and when I am running downwind I want the Genoa taken off her and the number one jib and forestay-sail rigged." How much you'll enjoy the book will probably depend on how much you can understand and are interested in this sailing background. Father Bredder has no problem as he turns out to be a "natural helmsman" and even able to take over the radio in an emergency.
The unpleasant Sir Harry Stockton is the Jonah of the title: "Misfortune follows Sir Harry," Lieutenant Minardi had briefed Bredder. 'He is never himself the victim of misfortune, but those around him are." This voyage proves to be the exception. But nearly all the action takes place in the confined space of the boat, and I rather lost interest in the story.
A Problem in Angels (1970)
A Problem in Angels is a slight (and, as ever, short) story about the sudden death of a leading violinist in the middle of a concert. Leonard Holton was himself a keen player of both violin and viola, and he included in the story a real person: a friend who was a restorer of these instruments, and there is a detailed description of him at work. Although "Father Bredder was not fond of concerts which required him both to sit very still and remain awake"' he was soon involved in solving the mystery.
Holton writes with real skill: "There was still a wash of light in the sky in which the first stars were already appearing. Against this luminescence the graceful branches and leaves of the olive trees around the building formed a delicate arabesque". And Father Bredder is very down to earth about his faith: "Science is not enough for us, nor ever will be, no matter how much we know. It is not enough for us because it reduces everything to the level of human understanding and there are many things far beyond our understanding which although true will remain a mystery for us ... Faith has wings but reason crawls and often in the wrong direction".
The Mirror of Hell (1972)
The Mirror of Hell is a hard-hitting fast-moving story about Lieutenant Minardi's sixteen-year-old daughter Susan's experiences at a summer course where murder and drugs turn out to be on the agenda. One of the suspects tells Father Bredder: "The road to heaven, my dear Father, is not through the church but through a test tube. A little acid can make mystics and angels of us all." "I think you are talking about the road to hell," said Father Bredder.
The Devil to Play (1974)
The Devil to Play starts with a baseball player being shot in the leg during an important game, which is watched by Father Bredder, who is soon invited to look behind the scenes at professional baseball. A colleague of his gets murdered, and there are suspicions that the victim had been involved in drug dealing. Effective contrasts are made beween Father Bredder's fellow chaplain at the convent, Father Armstrong, who is "quiet, a medievalist from the landed gentry of England, with an uncle who had been a Prime Minister" and his new colleague, a brash young American priest, an ex drug addict, who'd first experienced God during a trip: "Three golden birds come right past the window, kinda slow and right through the glass and one of them stays right over the top of my head. And right then I knew God was calling me." Father Bredder is able to respect them both: "You can get hooked on God," he says, "like you can on heroin. You can't get away from Him." Another fast-moving hard-hitting story, but slightly more disjointed than some of the others.
A Corner of Paradise (1977)
A Corner of Paradise, the last of the series, has an unpredictable and interesting, if at first very violent, plot involving Pierce Pearson, a world famous art collector and playwright (being world famous seems to increase your chances of appearing in a Holton book): "You're a cool cat, Fatso," says a jewel thief he has just totally outwitted in a really comic, inventive way. "Stop calling me Fatso," said Pearson, irritated. "If you have to have a nickname for me, call me Brains."
Admittedly, all this is very lightweight, and it also stretches credibility the way that Father Bredder is called in and allowed to be present at police interviews, just because he's a friend of the detective. But like his author, he has a nice sense of humor: "You know the damndest people," says his friend Lieutenant Minardi. "That's one of the nice things about the job," replies Father Bredder. He looks out for "spiritual footprints" (information about people's interests and how they think) to help him solve crimes. He doesn't claim too much for his own spiritual understanding: "I don't know that God exists," he explains. "I firmly believe that he does, which is different. That's a matter of faith. Sometimes, however, I begin to doubt. Then I try to believe all the harder. Sometimes all my belief seems to disappear. Then I'm alone. Then I pray. I pray for belief. After a while, it comes."
There is a page about the author on the Wikipedia site, and a list (with publication dates) of his Father Bredder novels on a Dutch Crime and Mystery Fiction site.
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