What in the World is an Ecclesiastical Thriller? - With Giveaway

Author Donna Fletcher Crow talks about the crossroad between thrillers and the inspirational genre. Learn what an Ecclesiastical Thriller is and by what other names it is known by, such as Clerical Mystery. And then check out the excerpt of the author’s latest Ecclesiastical Thriller, A Very Private Grave, at the end of the post!

I am so delighted to be a guest today on The RT Daily Blog to introduce your readers to my Ecclesiastical Thriller A Very Private Grave, book #1 in my Monastery Murders series.

And if I’ve lost some of you right there and you’re wondering, “What kind of thriller did she say?” Let me assure you you’re not alone. I was a little taken aback when a columnist in Canada requested to review my book and then asked, “What’s an Ecclesiastical Thriller?” Oh, my goodness, I not only have to worry about her liking my book, I also have to worry about her liking my subgenre. So before I tell you all to rush out (or rush to my website) to buy A Very Private Grave it might be useful to discuss my subgenre of choice. 

You’ll notice I say “discuss” not “define” because like so many labels, Ecclesiastical Thriller is a fluid one. Even among practitioners of the craft. Kate Charles, who in my mind is the Queen of the genre, prefers the term Clerical Mystery. And Phil Rickman, one of my all-time favorites, refuses to label his Merrily Watkins books. He says, “I absolutely did not want to go there. Too cozy, too safe, and too... well, too religious, I suppose.” 

Many, beginning with G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, simply write their series and let others label. Perhaps that was easier before Amazon.com wanted everything tagged so they could say, “if you like that book, you may like. . .” Susan Howatch frames her psychological thrillers in terms of Anglican history and P.D. James wrote Death in Holy Orders, to my mind the best clerical mystery of all, as one of her Adam Dalgliesh series.

Okay, that’s some of the “who” but it still doesn’t tell us “what.” I asked the question on GoodReads.com some time ago and one reader said, “I'd say all that's required is that the church (or synagogue, monastery or convent) or clergy, rabbi, nuns, or monks should be prominent in the story.” That seems like a good start, although the ecclesiastical setting needs to be more than just background. The religious element actually needs to form the thoughts and actions of the main characters. They need to be more than simply photographed against an interesting Gothic background. Or as the Clerical Detectives website puts it, “characters whose lives really were influenced by their faiths.” Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Ferguson stories are an excellent example of this where everything Clare does and thinks is formed by the fact that she is a priest.

Another reader said, “It seems to me that all the mysteries I think of as ecclesiastical do more or less have a spiritual theme.” And here it seems that we are getting close to the heart of the matter. Until I begin trying to define more sharply and realize that all mysteries are about the clash of good versus evil and strive for the triumph of right over wrong— What P.D. James calls “bringing order out of chaos.” 

And so, at the end of the day it gets back to “Showing, not telling.” The best I can do is invite you to my website where you can see my trailer on the home page and pictures of some of the churches and monasteries I’ve visited under Research Albums. At least it will give you an idea of how I defined and went about crafting my Ecclesiastical Thriller (A term I prefer to Clerical Mystery because it connotes more action. As Phil Rickman said, this isn’t a cozy) wherein: Felicity Howard, a young American studying for the Anglican priesthood at the College of the Transfiguration in Yorkshire, is devastated when she finds her beloved Fr. Dominic brutally murdered and Fr. Antony, her church history lecturer, soaked in his blood.

Donna Doing Research 

A Very Private Grave is a contemporary novel with a thoroughly modern heroine who must learn some ancient truths in order to solve the mystery and save her own life as she and Fr. Antony flee a murderer and follow clues that take them to out-of-the way sites in northern England and southern Scotland. The narrative mixes detection, intellectual puzzles, spiritual aspiration, romance, and the solving of clues ancient and modern.

And Kate Charles, the author of Deep Waters, was kind enough to say: “With a bludgeoned body in Chapter 1, and a pair of intrepid amateur sleuths, A Very Private Grave qualifies as a traditional mystery. But this is no mere formulaic whodunit: it is a Knickerbocker Glory of a thriller. At its centre is a sweeping, page-turning quest – in the steps of St. Cuthbert – through the atmospherically-depicted North of England, served up with dollops of Church history and lashings of romance. In this novel, Donna Fletcher Crow has created her own niche within the genre of clerical mysteries.” 

- Donna Fletcher Crow

You can get a taste for all of the action in this Ecclesiastical Thriller with this EXCERPT and then pick up your own copy of A Very Private Grave, in stores now! And you can enter to win a copy of A Very Private Grave by leaving a comment below about your favorite element of thrillers or inspirational mysteries. (Or email your comment here with your U.S. mailing address and the subject "Donna Fletcher Crow's A Very Private Grave Giveaway.") Three winners names will be announced on December 28th!

Read the Excerpt >>

BLOG UPDATE 12/28/2010: And the winners are ... francesdinagan, Booksreader7 and Dawn_Green