|Rev James Sherlock, The Rev Lisa Farthing,
and Henry Marlowe
(creator: Rev Malcolm G Lorimer)
|Rev James Sherlock (a Methodist?) is featured in The Minister's Barbecue, just one of the twelve short stories to be found in Saints and Sinners (2011). He arranges a minister's barbecue with unfortunate results: extensive food poisoning, leading to the death of a particularly nasty character and also of a dog. He manages to track down the murderer - but is tempted to keep the secret to himself, just as Sherlock Holmes had once let off murderers "believing they had been punished enough and prison would do nothing for them".
In the interesting explanatory postscript that accompanies every story, the author explains how worried he himself had been that he might once have poisoned his barbecue guests! But he goes on to comment that "Whenever I have told this story I have had the reaction, why does the dog have to die? You can kill any number of characters off in a story but woe betide you if you kill a cat or a dog!"
The Rev Lisa Farthing appears in The Body in the Library. The body was that of the Anglican priest, The Rev Tobias Maybury. Lisa had been his curate for four years. "She was a bright, attractive girl in her mid-20s who enjoyed life in the church. She had a great zest for life and her vivacious personality had fitted in very well in the life of St Gemma's. She was the perfect foil for her more studious, if a little more serious, vicar."
It is she who notices the corpse's inky fingers and suddenly remembers that only pencils were allowed in St Deny's library. She examines the books he had been consulting and not only identifies the murderer, but almost ends up as his next victim. No wonder she ends up with the nickname of Miss Marple.
Henry Marlowe was a student studying divinity in Oxford in 1867 and appears in a story aptly called Strange Customs. His friend, The Rev John Parsons, was a year older than him and when ordained, was sent off to a remote and wild parish in Yorkshire from where he wrote to Henry describing what a weird and frightening place it was, and how he keeps hearing a non-existent bell: "I don't really want to talk about it as I think it is some trick. I hear it every night and sometimes if I wake it is there tolling, ringing in a muffled sort of way. Is it warning me? Or is it inviting me to something? I don't know. I think it is a trick and I will find a rational explanation soon".
And so he insists on spending the night in a haunted room - from which he disappears. Henry sets off up north on the search for a possible secret room but without success. Then he wakes in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea that leads him to make a startling and macabre discovery. But the bellringing is never explained. It's another good story.
The other nine stories in Saints and Sinners are also linked by the themes of clergy and crime. As the author explains, "Each is about a clergyman or woman and their involvement in crime, either as the perpetrator, victim or detective. Some of the clergy are good, others weak and some evil and they are from different denominations: Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, with one story set in a monastic community. The book explores questions about good and evil in the context of life and the Church.
"The stories are not linked together and all have separate characters. Not all are murders and in one no crime seems to have taken place! In one of the stories the perfect hiding place for a dead body is discovered .... There is one set at the time of the American Civil War .... And there is a very dubious Dean of a Cathedral and a curate who collects inheritances. A good clergyman is maligned and a Pastor's son is determined to tell the truth, whatever the cost. Themes of the stories include murder, deception, lust, greed, envy, hate and witchcraft, the usual attributes found in the average church congregation!"
The stories vary from the absurd (such as Double Delight in which a clergyman is persuaded to pretend to be his playboy identical twin) to the really moving (A Very Necessary Murder which reveals the surprising past of a devoted monk), but they are all told in a lively and entertaining way. No one could accuse them of being entirely credible (see, for example the remarkably casual and chatty way in which a policewoman addresses her crusty boss, Detective Inspector George Craven, in A (Rather) Macabre Cricker Match (cricket is another of the author's enthusiasms). But the author's sense of humour wins through. When PC Lacey points out that four of the clergymen in the two teams of cricketing vicars were potential candidates for the Dean's job, he happily tells her, "If you weren't a woman I'd give you a kiss!"
But do the characters bear any resemblance to real people? The author says it is nonsense to suppose otherwise: "After 35 years in the Methodist ministry, there are little facets of people I have met in each of the characters .... You never know, you may recognise yourself in one of the stories. Please let me know if you do!"
So, if you're the curate who murdered old ladies for their money, or the bad-tempered church warden who led the procession by mistake into the bell tower, or the glamorous lady vicar who hurtled about the place in her powder blue MG sports car, and crossed her legs "with the unmistakably smooth swish of silk from her black-stockinged thighs", let's hope you won't be suing him!
|The cover of this collection of short stories gives a strong clue as to its contents: both entertaining and original.|