|Alan Beechey: Murdering Ministers|
Martin's Minotaur (Hardcover),
Not only did no one die in any of the church services I attended, but not once did anyone cast out a demon. In fact, despite the fact that I mostly attended Southern Baptist churches, I never even heard anyone speaking in tongues. Sigh.
Oliver Swithin doesn't know how lucky he is. When commissioned by his editor to write a satirical article on modern religion from the point of view of his popular but foul children's character, Finsbury the Ferret, Oliver reluctantly selects a church to attend for the purposes of research. Much to Oliver's surprise, the minister of the church turns out to be an old school chum, Paul Piltdown. Although reluctant to continue his research, Oliver feels compelled to help when Paul admits his fear that the new youth minister is causing divisions within the congregation.
Almost immediately after Oliver starts nosing around, strange things begin to happen. A thirteen-year-old girl runs away from home. The youth minister encourages the teens in the congregation to speak in tongues and casts out their "demons" in meetings at his home. Someone vandalizes the church with graffiti, and finally, the youth minister dies during a communion service. When the police arrest Paul as the murderer, Oliver must investigate to prove Paul's innocence.
Alan Beechey's portrayal of the modern church and its congregants will fascinate regular churchgoers. Oliver discovers both atheists and zealots in his quest for the true murderer and, in spite of his cynicism, he also discovers people who believe in and actually live their faith.
While I enjoyed reading this book, I felt some areas of the book could have been better. In Beechey's attempts to develop Oliver Swithin he also attempts to develop complete characters of his flatmates, girlfriend, friends, and relatives. In addition to the regular characters in Oliver's life, Beechey develops nine or ten members of the church congregation. In short, too many players held the field.
Many of Beechey's "humorous" scenes come across as forced and unfunny. References to Oliver's uncle's Bottom -- very funny at first -- quickly lost their zip. Beechey did write lines that left me in stitches, but in every case, the writing I found truly funny was understated. Either Beechey underestimates his own ability to be funny, or he underestimates his audience's ability to understand his low-key humor. Regardless, I fully intend to read his first book, An Embarrassment of Corpses.
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Click here to read Patricia White's view of Murdering Ministers.