Rev Cal Crandall

(creator: Myra Nagel)

Myra Nagel
The Rev Cal (for Carolyn) Crandall is the pastor at the Congregational United Church of Christ in the (fictitious) small town of Loblolly in North Carolina. She has brown eyes, tanned skin and straight, thick black hair and wondered if there might have been Cherokee blood among her ancestors. "Presence was a word people often used to describe her. She had presence, whatever that was .... She wasn't exactly pretty, but she had the kind of face you'd look at twice and wonder what she was like."

She had been adopted as a child and then brought up by an alcoholic adoptive father who had violently treated both his wife and her. He had then abandoned his wife and run off with another woman. Cal had "been a lost sheep herself" until a friend had dragged her to the youth group at Mayflower United Church of Christ where she had found she could share her suffering, but the experience had left her with a deep dislike of letting any man touch her. She was an emotional woman who "had never learned to separate her own emotions from the struggles of her flock."

The Rev Myra B Nagel (1935 - ) is a United Church of Christ minister. Previously she had graduated from the University of Illinois, then, as an Air Force wife, she had moved sixteen times in twenty-six years and, with her husband Don had raised their three children in such places as New Mexico, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, and the Philippines. When they finally settled down, she was able to fulfill a longtime yearning by attending seminary and becoming ordained as a minister. She has served churches in Virginia and Florida, but now, after retiring to devote more time to writing and teaching, she and her husband live at Punta Gorda in Florida.

She wrote her first novel (reviewed below) when a young friend was diagnosed with autism. She set it in rural North Carolina where her family has a summer cottage.This and a subsequent novel were self published. She also had four non-fiction titles published by United Church Press.

Downside Seven (2012)
Downside Seven describes how eight-year-old "Skipper" Frank has not the words to describe what he saw while he played on a Carolina lake shore on the day that Newman Rankey drowned. Skipper is autistic, and his communication skills are far too limited. His minister, Reverend Cal (for Carolyn) Crandall, can't imagine why Skipper drew a picture of Rankey's boat in Sunday School or why he keeps whimpering the odd phrase, "Downside Seven." The police have dismissed Rankey's death as a boating accident, but when a strange man seems to be pursuing Skipper, Cal wonders exactly what the child might have seen. Could he hold a dangerous secret locked inside his brain? And what - or who - is "Downside Seven"? Did the child witness the tragedy? Was it really an accident?

The only person who takes Cal's concern seriously is Mason Shue, a struggling private investigator, working for an insurance company that will not have to pay out if the death was caused by suicide, who had previously had to resign from the police after shooting an unarmed young man. It is he who does most of the actual detective work (finding out, for example, how toxic waste landfill comes into the picture) although it is Cal who not only works out what Downside Seven actually means but gradually finds she is increasingly liking Mason, although she still hates the idea of being touched: "I can't give you .... what you want from me," she said, hating what she had to make him understand. "I just can't." Her reason for this seems to stretch back to her own abused childhood and a terrible dream she continues having about herself as a screaming baby, but somehow it doesn't sound all that convincing.

The strengths of the book are in the otherwise convincing portrayal of minister Cal, supporter of racial integration despite the opposition of The Murmurers, (those members of her congregation still resisting the arrival of a woman minister), and the autistic boy, in both of which areas the author could write from personal experience. The description of the numerous demands on, and busy life of, a local minister rings true, as does the sympathetic view of the demands made by a difficult child. This helps the author gain our interest at the start, although Cal herself sometimes seems just a little too naive when it comes to dealing with real danger, and the rather unlikely plot and final denoument in which she keeps the murderous villain talking and talking at inordinate length strain credibility. The plot is altothether too slow moving, yet Cal herself remains an interesting character.

The author has her own website.

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Downside Seven cover
The cover looks rather home-made.
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