Earlier this month I had the honour of being at an awards dinner with the crème de la crème of British crime and mystery writers. My debut crime novel, The Jazz Files, had been nominated for the Crime Writers’ Association Endeavour Historical Dagger – awarded for the best historical crime or mystery novel published in the
in 2015-16. United Kingdom
I was supported by friends and colleagues from my publisher Lion Hudson. We had a fabulous evening, dressed up to the nines and served a top-notch meal, before the business of the night got underway.
The main speaker of the evening was James Runcie, the author of the Grantchester Mysteries, about a vicar who is an amateur sleuth. It is now a TV series. James pointed out that as a genre crime offers an opportunity to morally examine humanity - at their best and worst. Religion, as we know, also deals with the stuff of moral transgression and the resultant need for the world to be put to rights. My publisher, Andrew Hodder-Williams, suggested that perhaps that was why the crime genre was such a good fit for Lion Fiction, an imprint of the Christian publishing house, Lion Hudson.
Since the days of GK Chesterton and Father Brown, clerical mysteries have been a thriving sub-genre of the crime scene. From a Christian writer’s perspective, the character’s job gives the author an excuse to bring a bit of faith into the stories. However, it also offers plot opportunities as the clergy encounter the best and worst of humanity on a daily basis, and are often privy to people’s secrets, sins and lies.
Runcie commented: “I hope to have written a loving portrayal of a man who moves between the world of the spirit and the all too mortal world of the flesh, bicycling from Grantchester to
and back, attempting to love the
unloveable, forgive the sinner, and to lead a decent, good life.” Cambridge
The Christian imperative, encapsulated so beautifully here by Runcie, is not just the preserve of the professional clergy. So what about books where the main character is just an ‘ordinary’ Christian? That is a harder ‘sell’ to publishers and the secular book-buying public. In modern literature, as in modern life as a whole, people of faith are generally viewed with suspicion. Lion Fiction is trying to change that. Elizabeth Flynn’s DI Costello for instance is a police officer who happens to be a Christian. In Paul Trembling’s debut Local Poet, the main character is not a Christian but he encounters people who are, and who positively model Christian compassion and forgiveness. But there is not a ‘professional’ Christian in sight.
In my novels in the Poppy Denby Investigates series the protagonist, an investigative journalist, is the daughter of Methodist ministers – so that I suppose could be considered an ‘excuse’ – however, she grapples with the faith in which she was raised. Hence, she is someone outside of the traditional church establishment and perhaps, because of it, is more relatable to non-Christian readers.
What all of the books above have in common is that they deal with issues of justice and the notion that the world cannot be set to rights while injustice goes unchecked. And, unlike crime novels without a spiritual dimension, there is a sense that God is the ultimate arbiter of that justice. Like Nathan exposing David’s murder of Bathsheba’s husband in the Bible, the heroes of our books have a strong sense of what is right and wrong and that justice needs to be served. We need to be aware though that not all our readers share our faith and a heavy-handed ‘preach’ that God is the ultimate judge would not be appropriate.
Oh, before I forget, I should probably tell you that The Jazz Files did not win. It was pipped at the post by a wonderful crime thriller by David Young set in 1975,
East Berlin, called Stasi Child. Was
justice served? I’ll leave that for you to decide ;)
Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and writing lecturer, based in
Newcastle upon Tyne. She writes across all media, for
children and adults. Her mystery novel The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series
(Lion Fiction) was nominated for a CWA Historical Dagger in 2016. The second
book, The Kill Fee is out now, and the third is
due out next year. Her children’s books The Young David Series and the Young Joseph Series are published by SPCK. Her novel The Peace
Garden is self-published
under Crafty Publishing.