Wednesday 8 November 2006

Must-read detective fiction for theologians

A guest-post by JoBloggs

“That’s your job, searching for truth. You never get the whole truth, of course. How could you? You’re a very clever man, but what you do doesn’t result in justice. There’s the justice of men and the justice of God.” —Father Martin to Adam Dalgliesh, Death in Holy Orders (2001)

Detective fiction is about the corruptions of the human heart, the painstaking search for truth, and the complicated relationship between justice and the law. Almost inevitably, therefore, even the most formulaic detective story has something to say to the theologian. These ten books – some novels, some collections of short fiction – not only confront more or less explicitly theological questions, but are also well, even beautifully written. Some are classics in the mystery tradition, others take the genre and run a very long way with it.

So next time you’re getting bogged down in Barth, grab one of these off the shelf, mix yourself a gin and tonic, and settle in for an enjoyable afternoon’s reading:

  • The Innocence of Father Brown, G. K. Chesterton (1911)
  • The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler (1939)
  • Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie (1934)
  • Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers (1935)
  • The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco (1984)
  • The Dumas Club, Arturo Perez-Reverte (1993)
  • Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, Peter Hoeg (1993)
  • Death in Holy Orders, P. D. James (2001)
  • Black and Blue, Ian Rankin (1997)
  • Morality for Beautiful Girls, Alexander McCall Smith (2002)


Anonymous said...

This makes me feel pretty snobbish, because I don't read much detective fiction, but I have read most of these.

Of course, I would insist that theologians read all the Father Brown stories.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see P. D. James' Death in Holy Orders get a mention.

Anonymous said...

Great list. I know seven out of these ten but I look forward even more to reading the other three!

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

Hmm, I might contest these particular novels, but agree that theologians need to read mysteries. I plan a future post on the importance of Columbo as a theologically deep fictional character.

Anonymous said...

Getting a little self-indulgent with these lists, aren't we?

Anonymous said...

Hey Michael, Isaiah 53:2 and I Corinthians 1:18ff. by any chance?

Anonymous said...

I love Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow - especially the passage about how many words there are for ice in one of the languages of Greenland or Iceland (I can't remember).

Ben Myers said...

"Getting a little self-indulgent...?" Yes, that was exactly the point!

Anonymous said...

The Brother Cadfael stories are good ones for theologians too.

Ben Myers said...

Karl Barth learned English by reading detective novels. He was especially fond of Dorothy Sayers (in fact, he even translated one of her theological books into German, in spite of his reservations about its "Pelagianism").

Anyway, here's a nice anecdote: On one occasion, while talking with an American student, Barth apologised for his "criminal English". When the student politely replied that his English was not so bad, Barth said: "It is criminal because I learned it from English detective novels."

Fred said...

Eco's The Name of the Rose deserves a mention... but perhaps on a list of 10 detective novels for students of the late middle ages.

Danny said...

Hey love this, never thought of detectives for theologians, but some of my favourites are on here -esp PD James and Ian Ranken, Set in Darkness opens with this quote:

“Though my soul may set in darkness
It will rise in perfect light,
I have loved the stars too fondly
To be fearful of the night.”

Don't know why I mentioned it, just like it I suppose - am doing a dissertation on death and want to use this somewhere!!

Great blog by the way, and the Barth in bite size made me laugh...

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