(creators: Diane Noble, Traci DePree, Carol Cox, Eve Fisher and others)
|Mystery and the Minister's Wife is a most unusual series because, although the same characters reappear, the books are written by a number of different authors, with a new book appearing every six weeks. Each, we are told, "is a page-turner, a good old-fashioned 'whodunit.' They're books that bring truth to light, that reveal dreams, and that show that trust in God always trumps fear and anxiety."
Kate Hanlon has "strawberry blonde collar-length hair", but we are told little else about her physical appearance. She must be in her fifties and suffers from an arthritic knee, but is a courageous, engaging, if rather naïve, character who really does try to base her life on the teachings of Jesus. She and her husband pastor Paul (who is in his early 60s) have moved from their large and successful former church in San Antonio, Texas (which he had built up to a congregation of over 5000) to "take on the pastorate of Faith Briar, a small church in a small village nestled in the mountains" of Tennessee (with a congregation of 150) - and she finds this quite a challenge. However, she soon gets herself involved in her new local community, and with (as she would insist) God's help, she struggles to settle in.
The neglected state of her house dismays her for, as her husband reminds her, "You've always taken such pride in your decorating skills, your artistic sense of things, your ability to entertain with a gourmet touch" - and indeed "cooking was her hobby". She also has a "passion for her stained glass artistry" and likes being kept busy: "She loved the hubbub and activity. It vitalized her."
At the start of the first book, she and her husband have been married for nearly 30 years but he "still had the ability to make her heart flutter". They have three grown-up children, two daughters and a son: Andrew is a lawyer in Philadelpha, Kate is married in Atlanta and has recently produced their third grandchild. And Rebecca is an understudy in New York City, hoping for her big break on the Broadway stage. But these do not seem to play any part in the stories.
Diane Noble (who has also written under the name of Amanda MacLean) is the award-winning author of some two dozen published books, including mysteries, romantic suspense, historical fiction, and non fiction books for women, including three devotionals. She lives in the mountains of southern California with her husband Tom, a history professor and part-time writer, and their two cats. For her "the story is all-important", and, in her own life, she sees God "as the Author of my story". She explains, "Even in the darkest night of my soul I can trust him with my story." She had an operation for breast cancer in 2006 and was also diagnosed with Parkinson's. She says, "I don't think about my Parkinson's diagnosis very often - at least I don't dwell on it."
Traci DePree (1964 - ) is a novelist (author of the best-selling Lake Emily series) and fiction editor "for many of the best Christian authors in the country". She grew up in a small Wisconsin community and now lives with her husband and five children in a small rural Minnesota town. She says she enjoys gardening, knitting, singing in church, chatting with neighbors, coffee with friends, and volunteering in her community. Her hope is that "her readers will see God's creation and inspiration within the people in their own lives".
Carol Cox is the author of some twenty five novels and novellas. She is a pastor's wife, a "homeschool mom" and grandmother. She lives with her husband and young daughter in northern Arizona, where she is a church pianist and youth worker. She also has a grown-up son. She says she has "an abiding love for history, mystery, and romance", themes that appear in many of her books. She believes that stories can be used to convey spiritual truths.
Eve Fisher began writing while in elementary school, and her mystery stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine for the last ten years. Although she currently lives in a small town in South Dakota in a house that she shares with her husband, cat and 5000 books, she spent seven years in the mountains of Tennessee in a town which, she says, was remarkably like Copper Mill. Besides writing mysteries, she teaches history at a local university, reads voraciously and, she says, bakes constantly.
Through the Fire (2008) by Diane Noble
At first Kate is very homesick for what they have left behind them, but she prays for forgiveness and help, and is soon involved in solving the case of what turns out to be arson. As she investigates she makes friends in town, and subsequent threatening phone calls, mysterious packages, and a life-and-death chase only make her more certain she is on the right path. But what about the destroyed church? How can they possibly raise the funds to rebuild it? Paul reassures his parishioners, "Folks, no matter how dark this day seems, God is with us."
The author is an accomplished storyteller and has no difficulty in holding the interest throughout. Characters like the old and domineeering Renee Lambert with her spoiled little pet chihuahua whom she calls Kisses, is described in an entertaining way: it is she who swept into Kate's house without invitation. "A cloud of Estee Lauder's Youth-Dew wafted in behind her.
Kate's intimate relationship with God can lead to some rather stilted and unconvincing conversation, as when she offers encouragement to her husband and he "took a sip from his mug. 'I came out here to bolster your spirits, and here you are, lifting mine.' He paused, studying her carefully, laugh lines crinkling at the edges of his eyes. 'Aha! You must have caught the ear of our Friend this morning before everyone else did.'
However, the real warmth of the affection shown by some of the congregation is brought to life when Livvie Denver "seemed to see right through to Kate's soul: 'Something tells me all this - the move, the new church, new home, the empty nest - is harder on you than you're letting on.'
Similarly, Kate is at her most impressive when she remembers the text, "I was sick and imprisoned and you didn't visit me" and decides that she must actually go off to visit the unidentified prisoner who has confessed to the arson. And it is what he says that puts her on the trail to discover who he really is, and what had actually happened. "She had not realised how strangely satisfying it was to probe for truth, no matter the obstacle. She blinked in awe as she realised that sleuthing was like a newly discovered gift, something that had been hidden within her until now - just when she needed it most."
When the Church ladies hit upon a plan to earn money to rebuild the church, Kate tells Paul, "When you get a group of praying women together, just about anything can happen." Kate and Paul (who is even prepared to give away his much loved old Lexus car) may sometimes seem just a little too good to be true, but Kate never loses her sense of humor, as when she tells Paul that all that attempted murder and mayhem had made it "Just another one of those ordinary days in the life of a minister's wife". Recommended for its target audience of believers, and for its sincere attempt to communicate simple Christian belief.
A State of Grace (2008) by Traci Depree
The leukemia strand of the book makes an arresting story, and we really feel for the girl involved, but some other parts, such as when Paul gets involved with two brothers (adults who seem to talk and behave like silly young teenagers with their constant quarrelling about which of them owns the dog, Scout) get rather tedious. And the "boys'" final reconciliation is hard to accept.
The author, who herself adopted a little girl as her fifth child, uses adoption as one of the main themes of the story and writes about it with real feeling. As one of the characters, a woman who runs an adoption agency explains, "To me, helping families adopt is just a small thing I can do, my way of helping the childless and the orphans of the world find a better solution. It isn't ideal. Of course it isn't. But it takes a difficult situation and brings it .... Grace."
Kate emerges as a real person as she works away at her stained glass "watching her pieces (of glass) grow into something more than even she had imagined. Letting the light have its way. She supposed God was that way too, as His light took over and transformed the person into someone they never could have ever been on her own." And neither she nor Paul is yet as smug as they sometimes seem in later books. He tells Kate about an old woman who "has Parkinson's quite bad, but she's sharp as a tack. That's always hard to see - those trapped in uncooperative bodies despite being fully aware mentally ... It always gets to me, and yet it's such a blessing."
Although a mystery is involved in this story, it is far from being what is usually called a mystery story, and there is no real crime-solving. Also the plot is slower moving and less gripping than that of the previous book. But, once again, it may well appeal to those looking for a cozy inspirational story.
A Test of Faith (2009) by Carol Cox
It is a very slight plot, and the final solution (you know that a book like this is bound to have a happy ending) is not exactly exciting. And there is plenty of time for everyone to have a good gossip as it all proceeds at a leisurely pace."
Kate tells Paul, "That missing wallet of mine wound up in a stolen car, hon. I don't want people thinking I was somehow involved."
There are fewer entertaining characters than in the previous books, and Kate and her husband have such an idealised relationship that it is becoming a bit of a bore. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to pass on all the main characters from one author to another.This author, at least, might have been much better inventing her own.
In the end, she solves the case by discovering a candy wrapper. It's all too simplistic and too cozy. The blurb on the back cover asks, "When everything falls apart, can faith hold them together?" But this plot is altogether too slight to provide an answer.
The Best isYet to Be (2009 ) by Eve Fisher
It is not the world's most exciting plot, and Kate and her husband once again both seem to be a bit too good to be true. Given such a virtuous character as Paul who "had brought her nothing but good all the days of her life "and who busies himself doing good on all sides, it is impossible to believe she should have had suspicions about his activities at the Dew Drop Inn. How much more interesting it would have been if he had really fallen from grace! As it is, he has a ready answer for any little problem that crops up. When Kate tells him about old Ada, a victim of Alzheimer's, "His face clouded. Poor woman ... it's hard to see someone you love slipping away like that. And sadly, it's only going to get worse. But God is still with her, still loves her, no matter what."
Paul seems equally glib when he tells a potential convert who complains that "Seems to me sometimes that religion is nothing but a way to make you feel guilty about everything."
Kate herself does not become a more interesting character as the series develops - perhaps that is one of the major disadvantages of using a succession of different authors. When told that one of her Faith Freezer Program volunteers must be a thief, she "sat back, winded. 'One of our volunteers?' She finally gasped. "A thief?" It all sounds rather corny.
The author's main strengths lie in her descriptions of food, clothes and gossip, all tinged with an evangelical earnestness. She keeps on remembering odd verses from the Bible, such as "She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue ..." from the book of Proverbs, and applies this to her current situation, with no thought at all for its original context. She "bent her head and prayed with all her heart for ... everyone involved in the Faith Freezer Program, including herself. Lord, please, please help me speak with wisdom today. When she had finished praying, Kate got up and did what she always did when she needed to sort her thoughts out: she turned on the oven and started baking."
The blurb on the back cover promises us, " Kate and Paul are reminded that they can always have hope for the future, the best is yet to be." Perhaps, but the best part of this series, in my view, was the very first book.
|The books in this Mystery and the Minister's Wife series all feature Kate Hanlon and her husband Paul, but are written by different authors.|