Bishop Burdock

(creator: Walter J Sheldon)

Walter J Sheldon
The Most Reverend Paul J Burdock, auxilary bishop to the archdiocese of Washington D.C.,was usually known as just Bishop Burdock. Still vigorous, he "was developing a tendency to gain unwanted pounds and found it necessary not only to jog but to watch his carbohydrate intake. He viewed this development with some dismay, for he enjoyed good food." But he "stayed at least moderately trim. In anything but clerical garb he might conceivably have been taken for a football coach instead of a priest."

He had "a square and solid face with a kind of granite strength - and a touch of stubborness." He had always kept to his vow of celibacy. "To deny that would have been as much of a sin as the urge had been in the first place."

He "liked people and enjoyed being on hand when a lot of them were gathered together". After a brief stint as a police chaplain in his home town of Philadelphia, he had become rector of a poor parish, where he'd found he could attract financial support for his parish by appearing as an after-dinner speaker. As auxiliary bishop, he had become director of Community Resources, where his prime responsibilty was raising funds. Burdock "supposed that it was his peculiar talent (a blessing? a curse?) for attracting public notice that had brought him where he was today."

He collected jazz records and books and "had an excellent collection of crime fiction". But he did not enjoy slogging through paperwork and, when the chance came, was only too keen to set off on some detective work.

His own religious motivation is little touched on: "He was not a saint .... and it would be presumptious of him even to aspire ever to be one". When he has to tell a little girl about her mother's death, she asks him, "Mommy isn't coming back, is she?"
"No, Alicia, she's not. That's what death means - that someone can never come back. You'll have to accept that, as we all do when the time comes."
"If I die, too, will I see Mommy again?"
"No one knows for sure. But you mustn't think of dying. We must all go on living. It is a sin not to."
But there are times when, kneeling in the cathedral, "by thinking in a manner that in itself could not be fully expressed in words, he suddenly felt in touch with God in all His manifestations ... When at last he rose and backed away, he could not say that he had been given any answer to his problems. But he felt a lot better."

Walter J Sheldon (1917- ) also wrote under the name of Shel Walker and Shelly Walters.He had been a newspaper reporter, a TV producer, and a psychological operations specialist for the Dept of Defence overseas. He had begun writing for the pulps in 1940 and was the author of some twenty books, as well as acting as a ghostwriter. He is married to the daughter of a Japanese police chief and lives in Washington.

Rites of Murder (1984)
Rites of Murder
is set in Washington D.C., where Laura Triplett, a high-priced call girl (she had "clients" not "johns", and by appointment only), is garrotted on a lonely lot. Bishop Burdock realises she is someone he had helped obtain a school place for her 8-year-old daughter, and, despite the opposition both of the police (in the form of his old friend Joseph Prell, the local chief of police) and of of his archbishop, is determined to find the killer who strikes again and again. It makes a very violent but gripping story.

The lively cast includes Connie Quarterly, a bright young journalist determined to make her name, retired General Harrington Dillard, now leader of the right-wing Freedom Militia, and Dotty Waring, ex-movie star and very up-market party-giver. And Laura's clients seem to have included a number of important local figures, each with this secret to keep and a possible motive for murder.

There is some crisp dialogue, as when lobbyist Sam Crane (another of Laura's ex-clients) tells Burdock, "I wouldn't have agreed to see you at all if that dame on the phone hadn't been so pushy about it. Who was she - one of those nuns?"
"A lay secretary?"
"Aren't they all?"
"Not too funny, Mr. Cable."
"Okay. I've done better."
And the author doesn't mind adding a few real people into the mix, as when we are told that at one of Dotty Waring's up-market parties "Near the doors, Gore Vidal was in an animated discussion with Paul Newman".

Police Chief Joshua Prell is not at all happy about Burdock's "curious connection to all of these affairs. Three young woman are killed at night. The pimp apparently employed by one of them is also a homicide victim. And here you are, emerging from the background every time it happens. Now we have another, similar murder practically on your doorstep. What would you be thinking if you were in my place?"

And the archbishop thinks he had better send him off on a fortnight's retreat.
"Two weeks," Burdock sighed. "I won't know what to do with myself."
"That, I believe," said the cardinal calmly, "is the idea of a retreat."

But first Burdock manages to decode a ciphered message then get himself arrested for breaking in to Laura's cottage. His whole future in the church seems in doubt. But he manages to persuade Dotty Waring to invite all the possible suspects to a party in an effort to get the guilty party to reveal himself. And it is only when the murderer has confessed all, that Burdock can give up his "brief but exciting career as a detective".

It is a strong story, full of surprises.

There is hardly a mention of the author on the web although his books are mentioned.

Please sign my GUEST BOOK. All comments, contributions (or corrections) welcomed!


Rites of Murder cover
The cover is dramatic but does not even hint at the story's violent contents. Could the artist have read the book?
Return to