Father Pfefferkorn

(creator: Florence B Weinberg)


Florence Weinberg
Father Yygnacio (originally Ignaz) Pfefferkorn was a real person (what author would dare invent a name like that?), who was born in Mannheim, Germany, in 1725. He became a Jesuit when he was 17. Ordained as a priest, he served as a missionary in New Spain, spending 11 years in the province of Sonora (in what is now Northwestern Mexico and Southern Arizona). It was the Spaniards who changed his name from the German Ignaz to the Spanish Ygnacio. When in 1767 King Carlos III of Spain X expelled all Jesuits from Spain and her colonies, he was among those expelled from New Spain. He was imprisoned for 10 years, but, after he was released, was allowed to publish two volumes on Sonora: a Description of the Province.

He is described as a handsome man with "perfectly molded features: a prominent, hawk-like nose that gives him character, good cheekbones, a strong chin and jaw line, and yellow hair. ... His eyes are clear, bright blue." He is tall with "straight blond hair, cut short. Very strong. .... Pious enough, personable and well educated. From a good background." He is also an accomplished violin player. True to the period, he believes that "Women are the weaker sex and must be protected ... I mean weaker physically, mentally, and often spiritually, too. It's the responsibility of men to care for and guide their women." But he proves to be an understanding and compassionate missionary, ever ready to come to terms with alien cultures and trying to establish a common ground. He is fearless too when it comes to facing up to difficulties and dangers.

Dr Florence B(yham) Weinburg (date of birth?) was born in the high desert country of Alamagordo in New Mexico, an area of grandiose landscapes for which, as her books make clear, she feels great affection. She traveled extensively with her military family during World War II. Married to the scholar and teacher, Kurt Weinberg, she worked in Canada, Germany, France, and Spain. After earning her PhD, she taught French and Spanish Renaissance Literature for twenty-two years at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, and for ten at Trinity University in San Antonio. She published four scholarly books (including one in French), and many articles and book reviews.

After retiring in 1999, she turned to fiction and produced eight novels, ranging from fantasy to historical romance and mystery, including three historical mysteries starring the 18th-century Jesuit missionary, Father Ignacio (originally Ignaz) Pfefferkorn. She subsequently rewrote and expanded two of these books, giving them different titles, which thoroughly confused at least this reviewer. She now lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her horses and cats.

Sonora Moonlight (2008. A revised and expanded version of I'll Come to Thee by Moonlight, 2002)
Sonora Moonlight is set in 1761 at the Guevavi Mission in Sonora in what is now Mexico/Arizona. Newly arrived Father Ygnacio Pfefferkorn, S.J., ill with malaria, is healed by Jevho, a Pima Indian medicine man, aided by beautiful half-Pima, half Irish Patricia O'Meara. A grisly murder is blamed on "Indians". Ygnacio puts his own life at risk as he tracks down the murderer, and Patricia, who loves both the priest and Jevho, must decide which path to follow.

It is Ygnacio who tells nearly all of the story, with brief, but effective, inserts from Patricia. There is a large list of characters so it is helpful to have the explanatory cast list at the beginning of the book. What is not really needed, however, is the long list of native plants at the end of the book, that comes complete with a brief description of each and its uses, and even eight pages of recipes that Father Ygnacio may have used! But you can tell from this how fascinated the author is by all that she has discovered about Indian life at the time, and indeed it is her detailed descriptions of their culture that give the story much of its interest.

She really has a feeling for the place, the period, and the characters involved, such as one of the few Europeans in the area, the widow Eileen who has taken over the ranch since her husband had been killed, and tells Ygnacio, "When we are castrating and branding (bull calves), our meal consists of fried prairie oysters (calf testicles) - couldn't be fresher - tossed with scrambled eggs and bits of bacon, seasoned with rosemary and thyme that I grew round here year round, with some sort of vegetable on the side." Then, Ygnacio tells us, "She gave me a wicked grin waiting for my reaction to her menu recital. Her sense of humour left something to be desired. But the harsh ranch life led to that sort of wit. I visualised the ranch hands coming in with their hands, faces and hair dripping from rinsing themselves off at the well, their clothing stained with splashes of bull-calf blood. I was beyond being squeamish about any sort of food, having eaten Indian cooking that might include lizards, yucca root rats, and choice fat grubs or beetles."

It is a pity, though, that the story proceeds at such a leisurely pace, and even when Ygnacio almost gets himself scalped, and some really nasty things (including rape and murder) happen, there is seldom much sense of real excitement. However we do get involved in his efforts to build up his mission station as he comes to terms with the conflicting pagan beliefs of medicine man Jevho who twice saves his life (once with the aid of marijuana) and with whom he builds up a close rapport, much to the disapproval of his superiors who suspect him of more carnal motives. And you also feel very closely involved when there is a really vivid description of how Ygnacio sets Jevho's broken leg.The author gets details like this absolutely right - and she also well communicates the loneliness of such missionary life.

it is interesting how Ygnacio discovers similarities between his faith and the traditional beliefs of Jevho. As he tries to explain to a disapproving fellow priest, "Their creation mythology is close to our beliefs ... It almost sounded like the beginning of Genesis. Some time after the creation, the Creative Spirit, the 'elder brother,' I'itoi, come (sic) to earth as a man and was persecuted and killed by some of those who had earlier followed him. They also believe in the afterlife, in an immortal soul that inhabits the head, and that there are spiritual powers who can be appealed to - like the angels, like the saints - and who help the living here on earth with insights, visions, and prophecies." But, although Jesuits had the reputation of assimilating aspects of pagan beliefs, Ygnacio, it seemed, had gone too far. In the end, even his own people desert him and he gets transferred to another mission. But you really feel for him.

Ygnacio certainly does not lack courage and is quite capable of approaching suspected murderers and accusing them face to face. But, after a couple of false starts, he eventually persuades the murderer to confess all (which he does at considerable length). But in the end you are left with the feeling that what the author really cares about is history, with a little romance, rather than crime solving. What comes across is the Indian background and culture, and the struggles of the Jesuits to come to terms with it. The author seems much less assured with the storytelling aspect, which meanders along at too slow a pace. It needs more than the use of such chapter headings as Mounting Tension, Ambush or Dismemberment to hold our interest in the plot.

Sonora Wind, Ill Wind (2002. Subsequently rewritten and expanded as Sonora Wind, publication aimed in 2009)
Sonora Wind, Ill Wind, set in Sonora in1766, follows on four years after the book above. It describes how Jesuit Father Ignaz (he is called by his German name throughout this book - never Ygnacio) Pfefferkorn is sent from Cucurpe Mission to help a neighbouring missionary, Father Andreas Michel, who is under suspicion for murdering a Spanish army captain. His investigation unveils illegitimate commerce (involving gun-running) between a Jesuit Vice-Provincial and Dutch traders, a beautiful widow seeking revenge against the army and the Jesuits for her husband's suspicious death, Apache involvement, and political intrigue.

Ignaz eventually solves the crime, but he and his brothers are swept up in the expulsion of all Jesuits from Spain and its dependencies in 1797. Brutally treated, only 27 of the original 51 missionaries survive to board the prison ship back to Spain. It is Ignaz himself who tells most of the story.

The story gets off to an interesting start, but, despite some potentially dramatic action and some vivid descriptions, as of the results of a measles epidemic, the author seems to have difficulty in building up much sense of excitement. So, for example, when Ignaz escapes from imprisonment by the Apaches, and has to make a dangerous night time journey across the perilous San Antonio Mountains, the briefing he is given beforehand is actually more exciting than the journey itself which is rather glossed over. Similarly, there is only the briefest description of what happened to Ignaz after he and his fellow Jesuits were arrested, sent on terrible forced marches and on a dreadful over-three-month sea voyage home, during which many of them died. Instead we get some long passages in which nothing very much goes on, that do not always hold the attention.

Characters involved include the young "wild-eyed" Father Wolfgang Wegner, an admirer of Luther's teaching who manages to upset most of his priestly colleagues, and the beautiful doña Beatriz, whose husband, an army officer, had been killed in an Apache attack, who finds herself unduly attracted to Ignaz. He is all too conscious of her charms, and has to rebuke himself "for allowing the physical beauty of a woman to stun me so". Later on, there is a surprisingly explicit description of her lovemaking - but not with him! But he dreams of her and "blushed to think of the sinful fantasy my dreaming mind had conjured up, and said a quick prayer to banish all further thought of her".

The book contains fewer detailed descriptions of local life than Sonora Moonlight, but is interesting about Ignaz himself. But it is no page-turner.

The Storks of La Caridad (2004)
The Storks of La Caridad gets off to an interesting start: 49-year-old Ygnacio (no longer called Ignaz) who has spent eight terrible years imprisoned in Spain since returning after being expelled with all the other Jesuits from New Spain, is being sent as a prisoner to the monastery of La Caridad. He is not the man he was: "Repeated bouts of malaria had emaciated my frame. My left cheek was disfigured by a deep scar; a split right eyebrow testified to another whiplash, and a ruptured vein under the left eye to someone's fist." But although the Jesuit order had been closed down, he still reminds himself, "I am a priest. I am a Jesuit."

He manages to establish good relations with the Abbot, Dom Domingo, so when Ygnacio's new friend Gelasio falls, or is pushed, off the top of a tower, the Abbot, knowing off his reputation, invites him to help discover what had really happened. He is also befriended by the choirmaster, Father Placido, but other monks, such as Metodio resent his presence: "You Jesuits are troublemakers. ... You're greedy for power, that's what they say." No-one seems prepared to give them any credit at all for what they had done in the mission field.

Ygnacio soon realises that the clue to the mystery is a secret missing charter which would secure the future of the monastery in its ongoing argument with the nearby Bishop about the possession of the nearby Robbledillo Parish, known for its its valuable vinyards. When he himself gets accused of being the murderer, he finds his own life is in danger: "I was more than ever convinced that I would be the murderer's next victim." But the Abbot stands by him, and even allows him to accompany him on a visit to the Bishop, whose reactions to the news of the first murder he wants Ygnacio to observe. Could he somehow be involved in the plot?

It all makes a faster moving and more coherent story than in the other books, and there are the usual interesting background details such as the way that Ygnacio's recurrent malaria is brought under control by the use of the "Jesuit's white powder" from New Spain, i.e. quinine, that the bishop is able to find for him. This saves him from the customary blood-letting that he realised would endanger his life. But, although you feel some sympathy for Ygnacio (at one point there is even a determined attempt to seduce him, and at another time he is involved in a dramatic cliff rescue), you do not always feel totally involved, and the explanations at the end when the murderer (whose identity it was not too difficult to guess) confesses all, go on rather too long.

This is the only one of the three books that the author did not find it necessary to rewrite.


The author has her own informative website. She describes how she researched the books in an article on the AuthorsDen site.



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Sonora Moonlight cover
The books are printed to order by a small press print publisher.
Text
In the book above, there are occasional references to non-existent notes, as here, as well as a cryptic message: del...]? Was this meant to be just an author's note to the printers?
The Storks of La Caridad cover
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