Rev Shepherd Murdoch lived in Evantson, Illinois, just north of Chicago. Two years before the story opens she had quit her ministry to "let go of what had become an overwhelming burden of taking care of others and decided to instead grow flowers in this greenhouse sanctuary I'd inherited from my grandmother." After leaving high school, she had in fact taken a degree in horticulture.
She still remembers how, twenty years before, she had been violently sexually assaulted by her husband, the father of her young twins. This had led to her becoming well-known for "speaking out against sexual abuse and the death penalty, as a champion of marriage equality; the just peace movement and civil rights." Like the author, she had previously spent years as a singer in local jazz clubs. She almost never wore a dog collar. She is the narrator throughout except for some brief passages in italics.
(Rev) Blair Hull is an ordained minister in the Congegational United Church of Christ (as well as being a singer of folk music) . She earned her Bachelor's degree in Psychology and English at UW-Eau Claire before attending the Chicago Theological Seminary. She has served churches for many years in Illinois, California, and currently as pastor of the Congregational United Church in Whitewater, Wisconsin. After attending a 2012 Master Class at Write-by-the-Lake Writer's Workshop and Retreat, she sold her first novel. She lives with her son and grandson in Whitewater.
St Mary's Private Dancer (2017)
St Mary's Private Dancer tells how sex worker Marnie turned to retired pastor Shepherd Murdoch for help. But when Shep arrived at Marnie's house, she found the kitchen covered in blood, Marnie's six-year-old son Max left behind, and Marnie nowhere to be found. Shep's closest friends, Rupert and Crystal, who had been lifetime employees of her grandmother, are happy to help look after Max. Shep herself is determined to find Marnie and is quite prepared to let herself into Marnie's house in order to search it. She prays for God's help: "The only problem was, I thought, I don't have a direct line to God, no matter what anyone thinks. Be still and know that I am God. God was at my shoulder, as she had been many times before, but that never prevented me from getting hurt or doing stupid things."
Detective Sergeant Patrick Kelly, despite being due to retire in two months time, was equally determined - but, she wonders, was he flirting with her? She admitted to herself that he "was starting to grow on me, but the last thing in the world I wanted was a cop boyfriend." She was conscious of his "great eyes, but it was his hands were most revealing. They were big hands with beautiful fingers that looked like they could caress a woman or would change a tyre equally well."
It makes an intriguing if puzzling story, puzzling because we are not always told all we would like to know (e.g. more about her husband and how her marriage ended), and the style is sometimes a little awkward. But the author is, as you would expect, strong on her descriptions of pastoral life, as when she explains: "Ministers are like nurses. We never quit caring for the lost and the broken. .... Seminary taught me about theology, but, except for weddings and funerals, we never learned much about the real world demands of ministry - llike how to fix the furnace, deal with church fights, or respond to horrific life-altering emergencies."
The pace slows down as the story advances but the descriptions of places like the Dream Palace, a really seedy lap dancing den, are surprisingly convincing.
The author had her own blog but it was confined to 2010.
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