MURDER mysteries start at the end of the story--with a murder. And so, says Wilfrid Laurier University professor Peter Erb, does Christianity. He believes it is no accident that so many Christians enjoy mystery novels or that Christian writers and Christian themes abound in that genre.
"Christianity is one big murder mystery," said Mr. Erb, a former Mennonite minister whose academic studies into medieval mysticism and his own love of mystery led him into the Roman Catholic church two years ago.
When he gives his presentation on the mystery genre and faith, as he did recently at the University of Victoria, he jokes that he always tries to slip in a few Catholic mystery writers. But the fact is, his favourites, and indeed the best mystery writers, are Anglicans, in fact, High Anglicans such as Kay Charles, D.M. Greenwood and especially P.D. James.
Mr. Erb gave four lectures at the University of Victoria titled "Murder, Manners and Mystery: Presentations of Faith in Contemporary Fiction," funded by an endowment from the diocese of British Columbia, and organized by the university's Centre for Studies in Religion and Society.
The mysteries he focused on, he said, are not those featuring clerical sleuths or even Christian ones, but are written from a traditional Christian world view and explore Christian themes. In particular, the best of them, such as those by P.D. James, deal with what he calls "the Silence of God"--the difficulty many have in believing in a loving God in the face of such faith-boggling inhumanities as Auschwitz and Nagasaki.
According to Mr. Erb, it took about 40 years for mystery writers to address God's silence in the post-Holocaust world.
P.D. James's own response to the problem is essentially Marian, said Mr. Erb. While her ongoing sleuth, Adam Dalgliesh, is male, it is her minor female characters who demonstrate a response to the silence of God in their own understated way, taking their cue, said Mr. Erb, from the Mother of God. "Mary was silent too. Her response to the angel was 'let it be done,' which is a kind of silence," said Mr. Erb. He believes that P.D. James is saying that only her quiet female characters, like Mary, can hear God, because they alone are listening. "The rest of us are talking too much."
For example, Dalgliesh and his subordinates, none of them believers, represent an activist, noisy response to the evil they encounter on the job. …