Browsing an Agatha Christie anthology the other night, I reread for the first time in years the Poirot story “The Apples of the Hesperides,” which ends:
In the little parlour of the Convent, Hercule Poirot told his story and restored the chalice to the Mother Superior.
She murmured: “Tell him we thank him and we will pray for him.”
Hercule Poirot said gently: “He needs your prayers.”
“Is he then an unhappy man?”
Poirot said: “So unhappy that he has forgotten what happiness means. So unhappy that he does not know he is unhappy.”
The nun said softly: “Ah, a rich man . . . ”
Hercule Poirot said nothing—for he knew there was nothing to say.
And it reminded me of an enormous list of religious-themed mysteries and detective stories I built some years ago. Christie, for instance, also has the Miss Marple story “Sanctuary” and, of course, Murder in the Vicarage.
But I thought I ‘d ask our readers what they’ve enjoyed. Leave aside G.K. Chesterton and Melville Davisson Post. Others abide our question; they are free.
What other stories and novels are your favorites in the genre?
Let me give some examples, to show what I mean.
Chesterton has it all in the Fr. Brown stories: a writer who, in other works, writes on religion and here, in his mysteries, is using a religious detective solving religious-themed mysteries with distinctly religious reasoning. Post belongs here, too, although his other, non-mystery religious writing is thin.
That’s distinct from Knox and Sayers: religious writers who wrote nonreligious mysteries. And who else belongs in that camp?
Ralph McInerny and Andrew Greeley, like Eco in Name of the Rose, may be yet different. They have religious detectives, yes, but are the mysteries themselves actually religious—or just regular mysteries into which a cleric wanders?
Christie has such stories as “Sanctuary” and “Apples of the Hesperides,” but is the religion in them just background noise, the stuff present at that moment in the culture and grabbed momentarily by a busy writer, as it clearly is in, say, the Nero Wolfe mystery story “Easter Parade,” which turns on a character’s unwillingness to denounce another character on Good Friday?
And then there are the ever-popular historical mysteries, Peters et al., which require as much religion as was culturally present at the time in which they’re set. Which of those are genuinely religious, in theme and puzzle and solution, and which are only incidentally so?
In other words, you’re religious people. What mysteries do you like?