By E. E. Kennedy
I write mysteries, primarily because that’s what I like to read. One day, as I like to tell it, I ran out of Agatha Christies and decided to write a book that I’d enjoy, hence the cozy mystery series that bears my name. “But how,” I’ve been asked, “can a Christian write about murder?”
My first response is generally that my stories are about justice, rather than killing. The murder of another human being is an affront to God’s most precious creation and earthly resolution, in the form of apprehension and punishment, is required.
“But how do you get Christ into it?” In describing my Miss Prentice series, I generally point out that while not actually evangelistic; the books are definitely written from a Christian point of view. In some way, I am trying to give readers a window into the world of an average person who is doing her best to live a Christian life.
Amelia, my main character, is a middle-aged high school English teacher who struggles with a number of issues, for instance, the abrupt deaths of her beloved parents from cancer. In recalling these events, Amelia is comforted by remembering how her mother responded to the ordeal with faith and love. These Christian influences are subtle themes throughout the stories.
Amelia is a loner simply by circumstance, but her life soon changes after an uncanny encounter with a corpse in Irregardless of Murder. I was interested to notice in a review of this book (on Goodreads) a Christian reader objected to an untruth that Amelia uses in order to deflect the attention of her gossipy friend, Lily. (Okay, she tells a white lie.) Of course lies, even white ones, are wrong, but while Amelia is an inspired and caring teacher, she’s also a highly flawed human being who slips up on a regular basis.
Though she may present herself as the picture of rectitude, Amelia has plenty of faults. In Irregardless of Murder, she’s sharply impatient with an innocent student. Later, she looks on the villain with anger and unforgiveness. In Death Dangles a Participle, she is highly judgmental and inwardly hostile to a student’s mother. She also thoroughly dislikes the school principal, but only we, the readers, are privy to this attitude. In Murder in the Past Tense, we see the teenage Amelia display pride and a good deal of adolescent narcissism.
In Incomplete Sentence, Amelia displays a fault that I, myself, have struggled with. I call it “OICFI Syndrome; Only I Can Fix It.” Though she is passionate in her longing to come to the aid of an elderly man, Hugh, who reminds her of her father, when all is said and done, she is totally helpless to deal with the ruthless villain. However, as Scripture says, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” It’s only when she acts on what God is teaching her through His Word that she finds a way out of the danger.
These books seem to walk a fine line between Christian and secular literature. I’ll never forget the time I was at a mystery conference in DC, signing books, when a woman bought her copy forward and said, “When I read in the bio that you were a born-again Christian, I almost didn’t buy the book; but I read it, and it’s okay.” I’m not sure what danger she feared from my profession of faith, but she apparently absolved me of the sin of possible offense. We parted friends.
I’m glad she was worried. I don’t want to be so secular that these books have no “salt,” as Scripture calls it. But I also want to be “winsome” as well, another admonition in the Bible, presenting the Christian world view in a loving way.
When it comes to sex and violence, I have a rule of thumb that I use. Would my own (late) mother like it? I remember one day when she read an article about the author Jacqueline Susann (who wrote the spicy Valley of the Dolls). “It says she’s too embarrassed let her mother read her books,” my own mother said, “Imagine that!” That’s my personal standard: That it wouldn’t have made my mother, who adored mysteries, blush.
Ways to get your Christian message across can come up naturally in a story. One of my favorite moments in Irregardless is when Amelia is confronted by the villain--who clearly is trying to kill her--and has to make a decision based on faith:
“You rotten--” Vile, hateful, blasphemous names for [the villain] bubbled up from my throat. I swallowed them. I was determined that those wouldn’t be my last words on earth. This stemmed from my distaste for those scenes in movies where someone is about to die and screams a foul word. How would a believer feel when suddenly in the Presence of God with such words on his lips? For a Christian, these are the times when you find out what you’re made of.
In a review of the same book, The Drood Review of Mystery (unfortunately now defunct) made approving note of the fact that Amelia prays when confronted by certain death. “There are no atheists in foxholes,” they quoted.
So in fiction, as in life, this is how you witness. Respect your readers. Become a friend to them. Deliver quality entertainment that leaves them satisfied. Do your best for them. A pastor gave me a good way to look at it: “Make a friend, be a friend, then win a friend to Christ.”
E.E. Kennedy is the author of the Miss Prentice Cozy Mystery Series, about a high school English teacher, set in the Adirondack region of NYS. The titles include: Irregardless of Murder, Death Dangles a Participle, Murder in the Past Tense, and in February of 2016, Incomplete Sentence. They are available at all online bookstores, in both e-book formats and paperback.