|The Rev Blake Fisher
(creator: Frederick Ramsay)
|The Rev Dr. (Randolph) Blake Fisher (who does not like being addressed as Reverend, a word which he points out is an adjective and not a noun) is the recently appointed Vicar of Stonewall Jackson Memorial Episcopal church in the little town of Picketsville, Virginia. He has only been In the job for less than three months, having been forced to leave his previous post in a prestigious church in Philadelphia for reasons which are explained in the course of the story. Before that he had held tenure in half a dozen churches, but had never been presented with a challenge like the one he now faced to breathe new life into a dying church that was faced with the threat of closure. Blake, who had previously been so ambitious to get early preferment, knew "he had no prospects, no influence, and, probably, no future beyond this elegant but dysfunctional church he now led .... The prospect did not fill him with gloom. He discovered there were people who seemed to care about him and, equally important, people he cared about in turn."
Blake makes a very realistic clergyman for, as the author points out, "When all is said and done, he represents both the best and worst of us all." He is never afraid to say what he thinks as, faced with two murders and a threat to his own life, he becomes increasingly convinced that "God is near and waiting for us to come to him." It turns out that he makes a shrewd and observant detective too, when the local sheriff turns to him, first out of suspicion, then for help.
Dr Frederick J Ramsay (c1936? - ) was born in Baltimore. He graduated from Washington and Lee University in Virginia and received his PhD from the University of Illinois. After his army service, he joined the faculty of the University of Maryland, School of Medicine, where he taught Anatomy, Embryology and Histology and also studied theology. In 1971 he was ordained an Episcopal priest and went on to try his hand at a variety of vocations. At one time or another, he served as a Vice President for Public Affairs, worked as an insurance salesman, a tow man and line supervisor at Baltimore’s BWI airport, and community college instructor. Finally, he became a full-time clergyman. He is now retired from full-time ministry and writes fiction, including a series of crime novels featuring Sheriff Ike Schwarz. Also see Gamaliel. He lives in Surprise, Arizona with his wife, Susan.
For Sheriff Ike Schwartz, the two murders and the unexpected presence of an FBI agent in his town wreak havoc with his attempts to keep the peace. They don't do his romance with the President of Callend College for Women any good either. But the sheriff soon gets to grips with the problems, and, helped by suggestions from Blake Fisher (who sometimes even seems to be taking the lead in their investigations - not that Ike would ever admit it), the guilty party is eventually unmasked, but not before Blake falls in love with his new organist, the beautiful and desirable Mary Miller.
It makes a fast moving and convincing story that holds the interest throughout, helped along by hints as to what may happen next. The characters are credible, particularly that of Blake himself, as is the church background with which the author is so familiar. So we hear how the church looked so picturesque that it was in great demand for weddings: "The previous vicar, in order to reduce the number of requests for those events from outsiders, imposed preconditions on its use. If you wish to be marriedin Stonewall Jackson Memorial Episcopal Church, you had to be a member in good standing for at least six months or you had to pay a user's fee of five thousand dollars. Every year, membership rose from January to June, then fell off precipitously."
It was a church where Blake soon realised that there was a danger of him paying too much attention to the church "regulars, the old liners, SOFITSOP - same old faces in the same old places. They sat, Sunday after Sunday, in exactly the same spot - same pew. It seemed the center of the church, the spaces nearest the aisles, were filled with regulars. Some of them had been coming for decades and had staked out a proprietary claim on their places, and God help the poor visitor who had the temerity to commandeer it. Newcomers and visitors filled in at the back, or if they were very brave, the front, and along the periphery .... Blake looked again at the stony faces centred in the middle of the church and then at the new families, the young people, and the visitors spread around the edge and made a startling discovery. He had been looking at the wrong thing. He had been looking at the hole when he should have been concentrating on the doughnut. If the church was ever to reach its potential, it would do so with new people, not with the old .... So he abandoned his notes, pulpit, and routine, stepped to the front of the church and began to speak."
He announced that he would "begin three new programs this fall." He "was extemporizing and amazed at what he'd said. He had not thought of programmes until that very moment. His notes on the pulpit contained nothing about programs, new or otherwise .... 'I will lead a Wednesday morning Bible study. I will ask Mary to review our music and from now on to include some contemporary pieces each Sunday, and I'm going to ask you to move about in the church, not walk around, no, but to sit in a different pew every Sunday. Introduce yourself to who ever you sit next to. Oh, and starting next week, I want you to wear a name tag.' " Blake is quite prepared to upset "the Wine and Cheese Society.... the people who spend time whining and saying jeeze."
You can't help feeling that the author is really relishing the chance to say such things, not only using Blake but Sheriff Ike too, as when Ike breaks up a college dinner by attacking the vapid, theoretical arguments indulged in by some of the intellectuals on the college staff. But a later sermon from Blake has an even more dramatic effect as the murderer (wrongly) supposes that it is aimed directly at him/her and reacts accordingly.
Blake really comes to life "when he realised he'd started looking forward to Sundays again. He had once before, a long time ago. But this was different. Then, Sundays provided not so much a chance to serve, as to be noticed. Then, he enjoyed, no, he positively basked, in the attention he received as a pastor and priest. When he preached, he expected favourable comments and compliments. To the extent such a day went well, he believed he fulfilled his calling to ministry. On those days when it did not, he assured himself that his parishioners had obviously missed the point. As a member of the clergy, he was not alone in that bit of cerebral hoop jumping. But now, any thoughts he harbored for recognition were buried by a growing interest in the people around him .... He knew that if he continued to preach the way he did and promote the issues he felt strongly about, some of them would leave. He could accept, even welcome that .... But in truth, he clung to the hope they would stay, would embrace change. He hoped."
Blake himself explains, "I feel like I'm in the middle of an Agatha Christie novel. Murder at the Vicarage." But there are genuinely exciting moments, as when he is shot and when he awaits the arrival of the murderer, when you cannot help but feel involved. However, it is for the genuineness of the book's church background and its treatment of real pastoral problems that I would particularly recommend it.
|The enigmatic cover hints at the presence of two identical guns. All very appropriate, as it turns out. The book is a memorable offering from Poisoned Pen Press.|