(creator: Mark Schweizer)
Hayden Konig is "a part-time Episcopal choirmaster, a full-time police detective and an aspiring novelist" who works hard (but with a striking lack of success) at writing who-dunnits in a Raymond Chandler style. He lives in St Germaine, a quiet little town in the mountains of North Carolina. The stories are written in the first person, so everything is seen through Konig's eyes.
But his main problem, apart from a murdered body found in the choir, and eight helium filled sex dolls that have escaped into the heavens, is in the form of the church's temporary rector, "an unmarried militant feminist priestess". She sets about updating the church music (the thing that Konig most cares about), starting by suggesting Kum-Baya for the post communion hymn. "I tell you what," I said .... "I'll give you a chord and you start the song. Then I'll pick up my banjo and the choir and I will join in on the chorus. We'll just follow you". What he forgot to tell her was that he didn't play the banjo - well, certainly not in church.
Konig, like, one suspects, some other organists, feels that the main responsibility of a clergyman is not to interfere with the church music. He could probably manage quite well without any clergy, being perfectly capable of making up his own prayers, such as the one he produced at Thanksgiving: "Thank you God for turkeys who willingly gave their lives that we might celebrate your bounty". All this is great fun to read, and there's the murder mystery thrown in as a bonus. Recommended.
The Baritone Wore Chiffon (2004)
All the time, he is writing his own dreadful whodunnit, still hopefully based on a Raymond Chandler style: "There had been a murder. Canon Shannon Cannon had been killed by a poison collar meant for the bishop. The bishop wanted me to find out who did it and put the kibosh on the hit; or so said his personal trainer, Rocki Pilates, a woman with a lot to hide and and not many clothes to hide it in. She had more angles than Pythagoras". This take-off of Chandler is amusing at first, even if, as as Meg, his "significant other", keeps telling him: "It's really bad". But the novelty wears off a bit when excerpts from his writing keep on reappearing.
Most of the (very considerable) fun in the book is at the expense of ecclesiastical oddities, such as Father Barna, a new interim priest who "was a short, unattractive man with a bad toupee in a suspicious auburn color", who, after a well-paid career as a lawyer, was "now ready to begin his ministry without thought to his compensation, although he had decided, after much prayer, that it was in the church's best interest for him to accept the salary". He is full of over-the-top ideas, as when he tries to brighten up Lent ("such a gloomy season", he says) by introducing a Clown's Eucharist (in which "everyone involved will dress as a clown to uphold the feeling of clown-ness"). Then there's an Edible Last Supper, in which people can help themselves to a sort of Biblical buffet and Judas has a "Hi, I'm Judas" badge. Finally, a real donkey is introduced into the Easter procession, witrh predictable results: "The unfathomable odor that arose to the choir loft like a stench from the depths of hell".
In this book, it is not solving the murder(s) that really matters most. It's the sheer fun and exuberance of the writing, combined with an acute satirical observation of some of the current oddities of the church, that make it such an entertaining read. Recommended.
The Tenor Wore Tapshoes (2005)
Meanwhile, Konig gets on with his own writing, now not only based on Raymond Chandler's style, but with the encouragement of Chandler's ghostly presence - but not everyone will find his writing quite as funny as his choir seem to, although you can't but enjoy such character names as Starr Espresso, Jimmy Leggs (Konig's girlfriend Meg suggests that Harry Leggs would be a better name for him) and Alice Uberdeutchland.
As before, he keeps on quoting excerpts from the Chandler-type thriller that he is writing, this one being called The Soprano Wore Falsettos. These excerpts (all about a "Liturgical Detective duly licensed by the Episcopal diocese of North Carolina and answerable directly to the bishop") are mercifully briefer than previously, but only some of them seem really funny (such as "Memphis Belle and I spent the rest of the afternoon up at my place, engaged in a steamy theological discourse about the American view of eschatology and dispensational pre-millenialism. Nah, not really" and "The doorman was only a Right Reverend. I had expected a Very Reverend at the least ... maybe an Extremely Reverend"). "Your writing is not getting any better," his girl friend Meg (who "has a figure that would make the Pope consider Lutheranism") tells him. "Well." he replies,"at least it's not getting any worse".
The main plot is concerned with the murder (by handbell) of the appalling replacement organist, Agnes Day (and what better name could an organist have?) and Konig's attempts, as police chief, to track down the culprit. All the usual characters appear, and I enjoyed the modernised version of Lenten footwashing: "We'll be using the traditional liturgy, but instead of washing people's feet, we'll be shining their shoes" so when people have come forward for communion, there'll be "two stations of electric polishers". It's a pity that the black on the buffers made every shoe black ... However, the pages devoted to Konig's production of a Pirate Eucharist (complete with pirate costumes, a huge macaw, a ship's bell and a choral refrain Yo,ho,ho to the Father and Son) in a neighbouring church aren't all that funny - they just sound silly.
In the end, it all gets a bit too reminiscent of incidents in previous books. I do hope the author is not running run out of steam.
The Bass Wore Scales (2006)
There's a lot of fun too with the small town Appalachian setting, as when police officer Nancy tests out a waitress by ordering "an Adam and Eve with the eyes open, burn the British, bossy on the hoof, a short stack in the alley and some Sweet Alice". The waitress, not to be outdone, asks her, "You want me to pin a rose on that bossy .... and maybe grease the British?" So Nancy gets "two eggs sunny-side up, a buttered English muffin, a rare steak with onions on top and two pancakes on the side". And, of course the Sweet Alice: a glass of milk. Just a simple Appalachian breakfast?
Other characters are amusing too, such as the 16-year-old wine expert, Bud, who put Hayden on to a pinot noir that he described as "bland, yet dishonest; virginal, yet tarty; grudging at first, but evolving into gingerbread. It has a bit of dirty-sock overtone and sharp aftertaste". Hayden explains, "I tried it and, to my surprise, he was right".
St Barnabas Episcopal Church had come into a lot of money ("sixteen million dollars to be exact") and, not knowing what to do with it, had left it to an 87-year-old widow to decide how it should be spent. She eventually decided "after much prayerful consideration, that St Barnabas Episcopal Church would use the money to fund a NASCAR racing team. This decision was helped along, in no small part, by several conversations with her nephew, Junior Jameson, a NASCAR driver who just happened to be looking for a sponsor. In the end, they concluded that putting the church emblem on the top of the racecar would be the perfect 'vehicle' (if you will) to spread the Word of the Lord. 'After all,' Junior said, 'isn't NASCAR racing the number one spectator sport in the country? And don't those people need to be exposed to the Gospel?' ".
The racing car duly gets blessed ("It was a fact of life in the Episcopal Church that we didn't mind blessing all kinds of things") and goes on to win race after race, before meeting up with disaster, that leads in turn to the grand televised funeral when both driver and car are buried together to the accompaniment of the specially written "hymn": Nothing could be finer, laid to rest in Carolina. The car radio was hooked to a CD player so as to "be playing The Show Must Go On by Queen as they lower him down and cover him up" while the congregation throw lug nuts into the giant grave. But the service was broken up the arrival of dozens of dogs, accompanied by hunters, looking for Komoko who was among the congragation disguised as "a five hundred pound Muslimn woman in a black burka". Well, it's that sort of book.
Father George, perhaps not so surprisingly, had decided to leave the district quickly after eight birds tossed over from the choir loft during a Pentecost service failed to fly around as symbols of God's blessing but crash-landed onto members of the congregation. He is replaced by the eminently sane Rev. Dr. Gaylen Weatherall who assures Hayden that she won't be following "those wacky Presbyterians" and renaming the Trinity: "I stick pretty much to the Prayer Book", she tells him. "Those Presbyterians can call the Trinity 'Huey, Dewy and Louie' for all I care." She also thinks Clown Eucharists and Pirate Eucharists (described in previous books) are ridiculous.
All this is fun to read, much more so in fact that the comic detective novel which Hayden Konig is still trying to write. He is aiming to win a prize in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. Yes, there really is such a competition (see http://www.bulwer-lytton.com), and Mark Schweizer himself received a Dishonorable Mention in 2006 (in other words, he was a runner-up). But Hayden's sub- Raymond Chandler type prose soon wears thin - although luckily the excerpts are kept short.
The plot, such as it is, is not meant to be taken seriously. You just read the book for the fun of it. The humor isn't really anti-religious, as such, but reads more like an insider's look at some of the absurdities of church life.
The Mezzo Wore Mink (2008)
Important issues raised include whether or not Mayor Peter Moss wears underwear, and exactly what goes on in the Christian coffee shop with the massage parlor above known as The Upper Womb. And you can't go far wrong with characters with names like the (lady) Reverend Carmel Bottoms, Hyacinth Turnipseed, Ginger Snap and Father Lemming, with his wife Fiona Tidmall-Lemming and all the little Lemmings. It is Father Lemming who decides, as Hayden puts it, to pay "five priests fifteen thousand dollars to get rid of some demons that Carmel says are lurking in the walls of St Barbabas". Hayden thinks the money would have been better spent on charitable work - but then he is only the choirmaster and organist.
Hayden himself declares, "I believe in fate, in chance meetings, and in good fortune. I also believe in the Trinity, salvation by grace, infralapsarianism, non-Darwinian evolution,and possibly unicorns, as they're mentioned nine times in the Old Testament. I wasn't too sure about the unicorns yet. I don't dwell on either fate or theology for too long because it gives me a headache, but on a morning like this, when the crispness in the air snaps you awake and you can almost feel creation in full bloom, I found it impossible not to smile at the wonder of it all."
It all makes a fast-moving and amusing tale, full of nice inventions, such as the Ferris Wheel that Wormy (owner of Woodrow DuPont's Bellefontaine Cemetery,known locally as Wormy Acres) had bought to add to the amenities, that already included Eternizak, "music piped into your coffin for as long as the bill was paid". The Ferris wheel was to provide some fun for the kids "while the adults do the burying". And, to cap it all, just when you think there's no real religious content, there's even a minor miracle at the end.
The Diva Wore Diamonds (2009)
Organist Hayden Konig is enjoying his new married life: "Before Meg and I got married, my fridge contained beer, knockwurst, sauerkraut and some dead mice. The dead mice were for Archimedes, the barn owl who came and went as he pleased, and was an endless fascination to both of us .... Now my refrigerator contained humus, low-fat yoghurt, some kind of salad that tasted like nettles, fava beams, free range quail eggs, and who knew what else. Luckily there was still room for a couple of brews. I kept the mice in the spare fridge in the garage."
As always, the author enjoys himself with names. So nearby churches are called Sinking Pond Baptist, Melody Mountain Baptist, Brownwood Pentecostal Holiness, Maranatha Four-Square Church of God With Signs Following, and Sand Creek Methodist. And the new Christian Education Director (or Christian Formation Director as she insists on being called) is Kimberly Walnut. It is she who organises a three day activity for Bible Bazaar 31 A.D. with two hours of biblical fun on each day in which everyone dressed up in unlikely costumes, including some little girls who performed a belly-dancing routine. "I didn't have the heart to tell them that belly-dancing, in days of yore, was the purview of prostitutes and wanton women."
Led by Brother Hog, a group from other churches are protesting outside the Bear and Brew about a plan to sell liquor on Sundays. A violent storm breaks out but Hog shouts above it: "Grant our boon, O God, and in your power, show Your will, Your Holy Righteous will, to the inhabitants of St. Germaine, that they might know and fear the LORD!" Then the lightning struck. "Half a beat later, there was an explosion, then another, and the whole roof of the Bear and Brew burst into flames." It had hit a gas tank. The volunteer fire department "were ineffective at best" but the drenching rain soon extinguished the flames. "It was as though God blew up the building, then decided to put out the fire, just to show that He could." Meanwhile Brother Hogg and the protestors had quickly disappeared "in the manner of children who realize that something they've been involved in has suddenly gone very wrong". For Brother Hog "is in quite a quandry. He can argue that he didn't have anything to do with the lightning and that it was just coincidence, but then he'd be saying that God doesn't answer prayer.... And if God does answer prayer, Brother Hogg's prayer in particular, then he is responsible, because he asked God to do it."
The plot includes newly discovered diamonds, and even the murder of a man playing St Stephen who really had got himself stoned to death. There's also an attempted sexual assault on a teenage girl, but fortunately you don't really have to take any of this too seriously.
Hayden even writes his own creation play: "Playing the part of Yahweh is always a tough gig and there are a couple of different schools of thought. One is to understate the character and portray the Almighty as an approachable, loving grandpa, sort of like George Burns. The other is to go ahead and pull out all the stops and make him more of a thundering, James Earl Jones, pillar-of-fire type of guy." Hayden goes for the latter, as it better suited the singer's voice.
The author certainly understands his church background, which he both enjoys and pokes fun at, as when he says: "There were a lot of places to eat in St. Germaine, but only one for truly deep theological discussion, and that was the Slab Café. It was at this very table that we discussed the finer points of doctrine, such as whether or not a talking gorilla can give his life to Jesus, why some saints simply refused to decompose, or why tossing pigeons off the church balcony on the day of Pentecost was really not a good idea."
Hayden also presents the American premiere of a hitherto undiscovered work by Henry Purcell entitled, or so he claims, Elisha and the Two Bears that leads up to a triumphant climax in which the bears eat the singing children.
Meanwhile Hayden continues to write what he hopes will be his detective masterpiece, modelled on Raymond Chandler, which he passes on to his choir, section by section, to keep them entertained. This has its moments, as when one of the women characters "suddenly blubbed, turning on the waterworks, like that guy who, you know, turns on Niagara Falls for the tourists every morning." But these Chandler mock-ups are rather less entertaining than the author intends. The truth is that the whole story is so crazy (there's even a leprosy line dance!) that you don't really need anything more extreme. And, of course, it's all in the worst possible taste. That's what gives it its bite.
The Organist Wore Pumps (2010)
It is all quite amusing, even if the plot, involving Hayden spending ten thousand dollars on a bottle of wine, gets rather tedious at times. I particularly enjoyed the name of the local Christian coffee shop ("Holy Grounds") and the prayer from the pretentious Deacon Mushrat (pronounced, he hopes, Moo-shraht): "Lord, you are God,” he began, in a North Carolina accent so thick you could slice it, fry it up in some ham fat and serve it with grits. " You are the Triune, the Theotes, Omniscient, Revelatory, Immutable, the First Principle. You are the Alpha and the Omega. You are the Logos. You are El Shaddai. You are so awesome that you even know what I'm going to pray next!” And so on. It is he who decides to introduce an “awesome, biblical weight loss program … I call it Jehobics: God's answer to losing weight and feeling great.”
And then there is Christmas Parade judge, popular church speaker Kimmy Jo, whose “book and video Bible study, Victorious Secret a Woman's Spiritual Guide to Purpose Driven intimacy, had risen to the top of the Christian bestseller list.” Since then she had decided “to come out with a line of Christian lingerie and faithwear” so “was trying to get all the exposure she could”.
The extracts from the crime story that Hayden still insists on trying to write are kept mercifully shorter than before, and this time involve Sophie the Slug who "almost wept aloud, upon her visit to Mozart's birthplace, as she pondered the musical genius' life (so like her own) and untimely death, but couldn't lacking even a rudimentary set of vocal cords even when she realised her error in coming to Salzburg (in English: Salt Castle) too late to appreciate the irony when, being a slug, she dissolved, non-metaphorically, into a puddle of tears." From: "Sophie Slug: Eine Kleine Slug-musik". It is a lot less entertaining than the main narrative.
Hayden himself remains an interesting character with a nice sense of humor, as when he anticipates that he and his wife Meg will “be having grilled cheese sandwiches. There were several clues that pointed to this deduction including two loaves of home-made bread cooling on the counter, a selection of cheeses on the cutting board and a note saying, 'Hayden, where having grilled cheese sandwiches. Don't eat the cheese.' I was, after all, a detective."
The Countertenor Wore Garlic (2011)
I prefer it when, looking for alliterative titles, he comes up with The Castrato Wore Cut-offs but his wife Meg did not approve.
Meanwhile a new interim vicar has arrived: Fearghus McTavish is a Calvinist Anglican priest with strict Scottish Presbyterian leanings who is not really what parishioners were looking for. Suddenly there's a dead body, and Hayden Konig has his hands full with a Halloween carnival, a newly arrived Congregational Enlivener (whose attempts to enliven the congregation fail disastrously), the Zombies of Easter Walk, and a town packed with adolescent vampires.
it still makes an amusing read in places (as when we told that he kept a pistol in the organ bench at the church because “I've always found that tenors can use a bit of encouragement") but it is less entertaining than some of its predecessors - and the further we get from Konig's own musical and church activities, the less interesting it becomes.
The Treble Wore Trouble (2012)
It's the mixture much as before. Hayden is still writing his awful Raymond Chandler-type thrillers which may entertain his choir but just get in the way of what plot there is. The one exception is the very first excerpt: "Three thousand miles away, Marsha suddenly awoke to the sound of beetles scurrying and the smell of sewage and couldn't help thinking that if she had only gone to choir practice instead of that Beth Moore Bible Study, none of this would be happening: the First Methodist youth group wouldn't have been eaten by cannibals, and she wouldn't be locked in a Peruvian jail with a large, unhygienic woman named Adelgonda who liked having her feet rubbed." Later examples are a lot longer and much less funny.
But there is still real humor in the story-telling as when evangelist Brother Hog gets the bright idea of promoting his baby son Rahab as "North Carolina's premiere Baby Evangelist", with his unintelligible cooings being interpreted by the enterprising Hog himself. The baby had become The Rev Rahab, following Hayden's discovery that anyone could pay for immediate ordination on the internet (quite true. In America, you can!) Unfortunately the baby twice manages to get himself kidnapped. When cafe owner Pete imports a highly expensive truffle-hunting pig, he wants to be kept informed about Hayden's hunt for the kidnappers, so Hayden promises, "I'll send you hourly peeps."
I enjoyed the abbreviation used for the Daystar Naturists of God and Love (DaNGL), even though we've heard it before, and by the back row of the altos (BRAs). But every now and then it tries to get more serious, and it lacks the sustained wild invention of some of the earlier books.
The Maestro Wore Mohair (2015)
it is all reasonably amusing but some set pieces such as the funeral during which goats get onto the roof and the congregation can't stop laughing aren't really as funny as the author must have hoped, and the jokes about the possible names that Konig and his wife may give their expected child soon grow tedious. Some of the characters, though, still raise a smile, such as the current interim rector who "seemed like a nice enough and competent fellow" but had a "penchant for wearing his alb barelegged, his bare feet covered only by sandals, giving him the look of an affluent monk." It was one of the communion serviers who commented "I don't know if he has shorts on or not. I'm pretty sure not, but I'm not asking."
Then there's Kimberly Walnut who now calls herself Dr Walnut, having taken an online degree that had allowed her "thirteen hours credit toward my degree because of my life experience." And she plans to get her thesis on Fifty Nifty Thrifty Ministries for Growing Your Congregation published shortly. It is she who introduces a new Cuddling Ministry, as "according to her research, people don't get the amount of human touch they need on a daily basis, and a cuddling ministry is the solution. She's going to train the cuddlers, then let people sign up for one." But things do not go entirely as planned when Father Walmsley and Kimberley are discovered under a lambskin throw, "cuddling not exactly being the correct term, since neither of them had their cuddle clothes on." As one of their discoverers put it, "I've never seen anything so horrible. There were bosoms and dangling things flopping all over the place. I didn't know where to avert my eyes first."
Hayden Konig continues to write his dreadful stories to entertain the choir, but as one of them comments "I've read Hayden's best work, you see, and is not terribly better than his worst." But the stories are too often incoherent and plain silly. Here's an example: "Castrati. Hundreds of them, maybe millions, grown on a castrato farm down in Cuba, and just coming of age. They were marshalled by their leaders, Fidel Castrato and his brother Raul, the singing Castrato Brothers." And so it goes on, and on. But if you want to know about "liturgical codpieces" this is the place to look.
This is the 13th book in the series and entertaining though parts of it are, it lacks the constant sheer inventiveness of the first books.
There is the usual mayhem and murder with some slightly amusing passages as when Hayden describes his article Boxers Versus Briefs: a Theological Perspective that he has just published in his wife's name. and that includes the final findings of the Lenten Scripture Study on Apostolic Underpants: Adam - commando (pre-fall), Adam - fig leaf (post-fall), Abraham - boxers, etc etc. However, unlike some of the wildly inventive passages of the previous books, it isn't uproariously funny.
A Friends-of-Ducks Group is entirely made up of vegans: "I am an Ethical Vegan," explained one of them. "Hal is a Biospiritual Plant-Based Vegan. Cindibeth is a Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminine Raw Foodist , and Ellie is a Lacto-ovo Environmental Vegetarian." This is more amusing (unless of course you are a vegan). Other episodes, as when the Blueridge Ladies of Murder imagine they have caught the killer and are about to shoot him aren't funny at all, nor is the way no priest is available for the imposition of ashes service so a volunteer takes over, saying very loudly as she traces the sign of the cross on Hayden's forehead, "Look upon our saviour, Be on your best behaviour, Ashes, ashes, we all fall down."
Near the end, Hayden's wife, Meg, gives birth in the choir loft while urging Hayden to play something loudly to conceal her cries. This isn't such a funny idea either. The truth is that this series (which began by being truly excellent) seems to have run its course. Perhaps it's time for Hayden to be retired - but let's not forget the fun of the earlier books.
The Choir Director Wore Out (2018)
There is plenty to keep Chief of Police Hayden Konig occupied, including the absurd novel he is writing of which we are given what I find to be boring and tedious quotes. But, even if the story lacks the sparkle and sheer inventiveness of earlier novels, there is still enough entertaining content to hold the interest.
Altogether, it has been a remarkable series. We have seen how "the church burned down, Christian nudists moved to town, the old priest's wife tried to murder Hayden, we've had Goatpocalypse, someone was stoned to death during the Vacation Sunday School Pageant '... we've had sex dolls floating over manger scenes, clown eucharists, pirate eucharists, penguins visiting the Holy Child, dead bodies found in the altar, shoe polishing services ..." and so on. You can't complain trhat nothing happens. And it's all told with a breezy (but not irreligious) irreverence that should bring a smile to anyone's lips.
|All the books make use of a similar cover design, but with different colors, and a different client shown. Each is described as A Liturgical Mystery.|
|A closer view of Hayden Konig, the great choirmaster/detective/ aspiring whodunnit writer.
|Kokomo, the talking gorilla|