(creator: Dudley J Delffs)
|Father Grif (Griffin Reed) is the Episcopal rector in charge of the parish church, the Divine Cathedral, in the little university community of Avenell. In many ways Avenell was "an exemplary college town, a southern Ivy League-ish kind of school with handmade antebellum brick and jade hedgerows parceled out on top of a mountain. Founded just before the War Between the States by the Episcopal Southern Diocese, Averill still exudes a nostalgic air of utopian promise." Father Grif, decribed on the cover as "a man of deep spirituality with a penchant for classic literature" enjoys "the gentle atmosphere of Avenell accented by the thriving undercurrent of university life".
His beloved new wife Amy had died of cancer soon some four years before the time of the first book, by which time Father Griff had just reached the age of 50. He wears glasses and is starting to notice "more grey hairs in the sideburns .... My hairline seemed to recede more than usual, my full face and clean-shaven chin seemed pale. Even my crisp blue eyes - secretly my favorite feature - appeared older." He is over six feet tall, and his wife Amy had used to tease him that he had "that Robert Redford look, all handsome and golden, that makes all the parishioners swoon." He still desperately misses her, but "as angry and grieved as I still am much of the time, I discovered amid my sorrow that I still care about people. I still love God. I still believe what Julian of Norwich wrote: 'All manner of things shall be well'."
Father Grif, who had trained at the Union Seminary in New York, must be one of the most God-fearing and committed practising Christians in the ranks of clergy detectives. "How are you doing, Dan?" he asks his policeman friend, Sergeant Dan Warren. "How are things, you know, with you and God?"
And he worries too about his new girl friend Caroline's state of belief. If she does not believe in God, how can they possibly continue their relationship? But as he explains elsewhere, "I try never to give up on people. I passionately believe that the essence of faith is hope, that there is no soul soiled beyond redemption." As he sees it, "The Lord and I do a pretty fair job most of the time".
Dudley J Delffs is a writer and editor living in Littleton, Colorado. A native of Tennessee, he holds a B.A. and M.A. in English from the University of Tennessee, an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Colorado Christian University and a Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing/Fiction from the University of Denver. He became Assistant Professor of English at Colorado Christian University before becoming a fiction editor, then a Vice President, at Random House, then at Waterbrook Press, then Vice President and Publisher of Trade Books at Zondervan Company in Michigan, which describes itself as "the leading Christian communications company in the world".
The Martyr's Chapel (1998)
It is Father Grif, who tells the story throughout, who had got a telephone call from the dying man (who had told him he was desperate to talk to him before it was too late) and had eventually found the body. Helped by his 26-year-old curate Pete Abernathy ( "one of my favorite people" as he calls him), he has to cope with the distinctly unpleasant Truman family, ranging from Gentry's estranged widow Marcia to his aggressive half brother Cale. It is Cale who tells Grif that Marcia "may have been the one who popped dear old dad in the noggin. She certainly had cause enough." To him, religion is mere "abracadabra", and Grif and Pete are "Father Lone Ranger" and "Father Tonto". And then the youngest of three daughters, who is "on medication", claims to have seen her dead father still in his room, "standing by the window ... with a page in hand". There is no shortage of problem characters.
Some of the dialogue sounds rather stilted as is when Grif tells a cheeky reporter, "You listen to me, Miss. You take your sleazy allegations somewhere else. To accuse me of Gentry Truman's murder - why, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!" And there is some awkward phrasing as in "No one but the (yapping) dog said a word for several moments".
There is a long description of Gentry's elaborate funeral, taken of course by Father Grif, complete with lengthy quotes of the prayers and homily, as well as summaries of the Bible readings. Oddly enough, all this works quite well, for there seems a reality about this description of an unbeliever's funeral, with Grif leading the way in prayer, faith and hope. But then a scream rings out - and we are back in the world of unlikely fiction. Incidentally, among the congregation, the author has cheekily added "a half dozen celebrities .... including a black-turbaned Liz Taylor, Elton John (dressed like a priest himself) and legendary Broadway actress Joan Plowright".
The author takes every opportunity to communicate his Christian message, as when curate Pete confides in Grif that he has fallen in love with an Amish girl, and Grif (rather unnecessarily?) tells him that "Love cannot be formulized or entirely explained. It's the same way with God's love .... God asks us to obey Him because we love Him. He invites us into a deeper relationship with His son, His Spirit, and delights in surprising us with His goodness. And one of the ways he surprises as most with His Love is through other people."
There is a melodramatic climax in which, confronted by the murderer's gun, Grif stammers out the Lord's prayer then buys time, as so often happens in crime stories, by engaging the murderer in unlikely conversation. And, the murderer disposed of, the book ends with some happy hymn singing. This combination of rather unlikely story with a deeply-felt if simplistic Christian message does not always make too happy a marriage.
The Judas Tree (1999)
The story develops at a ponderous pace and, although there are some exciting incidents, the climax is frankly absurd. Who could possibly believe in characters like General Nathan Bledsoe, of the adjoining air force base, whom we first meet when he rushes out of the woods in an attempt to personally arrest Father Grif and his police friend, Sergeant Dan, just because they have approached the Judas Tree?
With Dan at this time is Special Agent John Corey, of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, who is described as using his wife's knitting needles to retrieve physical evidence, and who "proved adept at climbing (up the Judas Tree), quick and strong, despite his dress clothes and polished leather wingtips. Stopping twice to gather more bark and tree samples into paper backs, he became so excited over the discovery of a fibre sample that I thought he would fall." Like the general, he does not ring true. Faced with such improbabilities, it is perhaps no wonder that Father Grif is driven to hum under his breath, "Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me ... Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming, coming for you and for me."
The Amish characters play an important part in the story, particularly as Father Grif's young curate has to make up his mind whether to accept a promotion in his own church or give it all up to join the Amish community and marry his sweetheart. The Amish way of life is well described, and you can sense its attraction for him.
There is not much humor beyond an amusing reference to the First Christian Church's use of white grape juice rather than red at communion services so that there will be no risk of staining their new white carpets, and the other church leaders' indignation at this, culminating in "a raucous din". There are some other lively parts too, as when Father Grif is determined to win back an Amish puzzle box at an auction.
Some of the dialogue, however, is rather stilted, and, as the plot slowly progresses, Father Grif himself sounds more and more like a spokesman for the author's own beliefs, with his references to Caroline's "budding faith" and other rather pompous phrases. There is no doubt about his religious motivation and Biblical knowledge, though. Mention Deuteronomy 32-43 to him and he can immediately paraphrase the content. When conducting his friend's funeral, he "felt compelled to focus on passages of Scripture that emphasised the comfort and intimacy of our relationship with God. As usual, I was likely preaching to myself as well as anyone else." Perhaps that is what the author is doing too. But, even so, the story is not without appeal, particularly for anyone who shares the author's certainties.
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|The aim of the Bethany House publishers is "to help Christians apply biblical truth in all areas of life"- even to murder, it seems. Another of their authors is Thomas Brace Haughey.|