Pastor Abby Shaw

(creator: Karl Fieldhouse)


Awful Advent cover
Pastor Abigail (Abby) Shaw is the young (presumably Lutheran) pastor at St Luke's Church in Frederick County. Maryland. It is her first post and, when we first meet her, she has been in the job for the one and a half years since she left seminary. She is a determined but slightly scatty young woman who "floated somnolently through Sunday School and service" but is described by her policeman boyfriend as "the hottest minister I've ever seen". It is she who narrates the stories throughout.

Karl Fieldhouse (date of birth? photo?) is described as a reading specialist who has published books for learner readers. Formerly a resident of Frederick County, Maryland, and Waterloo County, Ontario, he lives with his wife, a Lutheran pastor, in south central Pennsylvania. He is the author of three novels, of which the two featuring Pastor Abby Shaw are reviewed below.

Awful Advent (2002)
Awful Advent starts with young Pastor Abby finding a body in her church four Sundays before Christmas. The dead woman, the Guild President Nancy Hoff, had been "hit from behind with the processional cross". She had had numerous enemies so, when the state police arrest Nancy's husband, a long-time supporter of the pastor, Abby begins her own investigation to clear him and sets about questioning all concerned. But Board President Alvin Porter plans to use the situation to get rid of Abby: "We hired you to serve as our pastor, not to play policewoman," he warns her. As Christmas Eve approaches, Abby faces a Bishop's enquiry into her competence as a minister, break-ins at both her church office and home, as well as threats to her own safety - then she herself is accused of the murder before she eventually solves the mystery and, in an unlikely climax, quite literally knocks out the villain.

However, Trooper Ike Eichelberger ("the most gorgeous hunk of a cop I'd ever seen") is ever at hand to help her out: when she slipped on the ice, "He encased my shoulders with his arm and pulled me against him. And the theologians at the seminary talked about Holy Communion as a foretaste of heaven!" You don't have to take any of it too seriously. Even when Abby has to tell the dead woman's husband about his wife's death, there's still room for a joke: "Dead?" responds the husband. "She's healthy as a horse and twice as likely to bite. You can't be serious."

The day-to-day routine of Abby's church work is convincingly described and some of the details sound as though they might have come from real life, as when there is reference to a tombstone company which "often confused digits in the dates, resulting in the deceased sometimes appearing to have died before coming into the world." And there is a realistic description of in-fighting in the church about the choice of a Christmas tree and its decoration, as well as an amusing description of a parishioner who invites Abby in to see the "Christmas fantasia" she has arranged in her house with carols playing in every room and such grotesque decorations as "Angels made from handkerchiefs, pipe cleaners, and aluminium foil. Dozens of them floated in the air, hanging by invisible threads. A fan placed in one corner kept them flutteering gently across the night sky painted with fluorescent stars on the ceiling."

Abby herself spends a lot of time thinking about Ike's freckles and his biceps.When he invites her to a movie and sandwiches, she tells us, "Raw groundhog on mouldy bread would have won my approval if taken in the company of my favourite police officer .... Attaway, Abby girl. Knock him dead with your stunning intellect. At least I had avoided using 'duh' twice or drooling on the phone so loudly you'd think I'd answered the phone in the shower." And when he comes to collect she is in such a hurry to meet him that she trails a roll of toilet paper behind her. "That's what I get for buying a better brand of toilet tissue. The generic kind would have torn off at the first corner."

Another of her main concerns seems to be her friend Dora's apple pies: "When she died, Dora could just show up at the pearly gates with one of her apple pies. She could bribe her way into heaven, because no one this side of God could resist that dessert." And you won't be surprised to learn that Abby has a "handy-dandy communion kit (an embroidered craft box I'dconverted for this purpose)".

The author thanks his editor at Avalon Books "whose editorial suggestions made a good story better". But I'm afraid the story is not all that good. It is no more than mildly entertaining and lacks any real sense of excitement or suspense. Avalon Books is a romance publisher that does not allow any explicit sexual content or profanity ("not more than a kiss or embrace") and explains that "it is the author's responsibility to heighten the romantic atmosphere by developing love scenes with tenderness, emotion and perception." The result is cozy and romantic, ending, as it does, with Abby embracing Ike and reflecting, "St Luke's and I have had an awful Advent, but somehow I know Christmas and the new year will make up for it."

Lethal Lent (2004)
Lethal Lent presents a lot of problems for Pastor Abby Shaw. Trooper Ike Eichelberger has broken up with her because she won't stay over-night with him (the publisher would not have allowed it either!); another very handsome but slightly sinister suitor, Greg, has emerged (but he keeps comparing Abby to his dead wife and you know he can't be trusted when "he smiled so wide I wondered if his mouth hurt"); and one of the female participants in an all-woman retreat, organised by Abby, is murdered (stabbed 19 times by Abby's own knife) and the police suspect one of Abbey's best friends, Barb Johnson. To make matters worse, Alvin Porter, church official and regular pain-in-the-neck, is blaming Abby for the failed women's retreat, friend Dora is insulted when Abby become suspicious of her niece, and perhaps most frightening of all, Abby's mother (a caricature of a bossy mum) arrives unannounced and immediately begins wedding preparations for Abby with the man that she's not sure she even wants to date. Meanwhile the killer is waiting to strike again ....

It is, I'm afraid, a silly story with totally unconvincing characters (like the dead woman's former husband ("Make sure they put the funeral in the afternoon. With the graveside ceremony, I suppose we're going to lose half a workday, but a morning funeral could cost the whole day"), and heavy-handed jokes, such as the much repeated references to Abby's appalling cooking with pages devoted to descriptions of her totally inedible bread that has to be cut with a hacksaw and is mistaken for "a mound of baked clay". Even right in the middle of his murder invstigation, Ike still jokes about it.

in the end it all begins to read rather like a facetious parody of a conventional "cozy" with all the emphasis on domestic trivialities ("I grabbed my University of Maryland Terps sweatshirt with only one chocolate smear on it and my indoor jeans, indoor because of a hole in both knees. I attended to my hair by running my fingers through it twice from hairline to shoulders"), attention to food ("I wonder if they have cream cheese in jail"), the antics of Fred the fish, and various romantic musings (Ike v Greg. Will or won't Abby make the right choice? In the end, she gets a proposal from each, as well as "the most perfect diamond ring the world has ever seen".)

It would be nice to think that the author intends it all as a hilarious parody - but I'm afraid he doesn't - and it comes as a disappointment after the first book which was also jokey but which had connections with reality. And you cannot really blame the Avalon guidelines. For an example of how an author can work within these, yet still come up with something both entertaining and realistic, see the Emilie Richards books.


There seems to be no biographical information about the author on the web.



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Lethal Lent cover
The books are published by a firm that specialises in romantic stories for public library readers - and these books fit the bill, the second one so much so that it almost reads like a parody. The covers seem to have little connection with the content.
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