Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: willie or not

From: Patrick King (
Date: 08 Dec 2006

Offering a character a complete identity is useful depending on what the writer's agenda for writing is. A character's religion, education or lack there of, place of origin, and hobbies can give the reader a more complete picture of the individual. On the other hand, if you're writing to entertain the masses, you don't need to put anyone off and prejudice is one of those ideas right at the edge of fantasy. Conan Doyle, certainly the most enduring crime writer, gave Holmes hobbies, interests, and habbits apart from his interest in crime solving. He never went into his religion, however, and in the Study In Scarlet anyway, is very critical of Mormons. We can assume Holmes was raised Church of England, but that mind could never relate to the un-provable. Neither Chesterton nor Kemelman were anywhere near as successful as Earl Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, or Agatha Christie, who mention religion only in passing. I'd say both Chersterton & Kemelman were better writers than any of the others mentioned, but their characters lack universal appeal. Tony Hillerman's Jim Chee is a medicine man who does various sings and is very involved in his Native American religious roots. While Father Brown always seemed a bit proselytizing to me, Kemelman is not, but he does preach to the choir. Hillerman, however, seems to be just informing reader and rounding out his story and characters. He seems to have less invested in his religious mentioning. While I think morality is the most important factor in crime fiction, I can easily see morality apart from religion. Life and death morality are true across cultural bonds. Sexual morality, however, is dealt with very differently in nearly every culture and that is the crux of noir fiction.
--- JIM DOHERTY <> wrote:

> Patrick,
> I won't go into your whole post, but one point you
> made:
> "Also, referencing specific belief systems was death
> to publishers until very recently, especially in
> genre
> literature. In fact it may still be. Chesterton and
> Green are the only two I can think of who broke that
> rule yet were more or less 'successful.'"
> struck me.
> I'm not sure what you mean by "VERY recently," but
> over 40 years ago, Harry Kemelman was consistently
> hitting the best-seller lists, and winning awards,
> with a series about a crime-solving rabbi.
> Earlier examples include Leonard Holton's series
> about
> a crime-solving priest, Jack Webb's (not the DRAGNET
> Webb) series about the crime-solving partnership
> between a Jewish cop and a Catholic priest, Anthony
> Boucher's series about a crime-solving nun, etc.
> But aside from crime-solving Catholic or Jewish
> clerics, references to the specific religious
> beliefs
> of characters in genre fiction was not as unusual as
> you suggest. Thomas Walsh's Irish cops in score of
> short stories and novels like NIGHTMARE IN MANHATTAN
> or THE NIGHT WATCH, were all obviously, and usually
> devoutly, Catholic. Ed McBain's Meyer Meyer was
> non-practicing, but still believing, Jew, while
> Cotton
> Mather (named for a Puritan preacher in colonial
> times) was a protestant clergyman's son who still
> attended church services faithfully. Even Mike
> Shayne
> recalled going to Mass as a child in his debut
> novel,
> And that's just published works. References to
> specific belief systems abounded in movies, TV,
> stage,
> and radio. One of the Lone Ranger's regular
> contacts
> was a Mexican-American Franciscan priest. One of
> Joe
> Friday's most popular cases was the investigation
> into
> the theft of a statue of Baby Jesus from a Catholic
> church (and Webb, though not Catholic himself, used
> Catholic imagery frequently). Hitchcock's I CONFESS
> is about a priest accused of the murder who knows
> who
> the real murderer is but can't reveal it because he
> heard the killer's confession, and, in THE WRONG
> MAN,
> another falsely accused defendant is cleared when
> the
> real culprit is arrested at the very moment the hero
> kneels down to pray the Rosary. The dying cop in
> Sidney Kingsley's stage play DETECTIVE STORY asks
> for
> a priest and his last words are the Catholic Act of
> Contrition.
> None of these are any earlier than the mid-1960's.
> And that's just off the top of my head. I'm sure
> there are all kinds of other examples if I delved
> into
> it.
> Are you aware of some publishers' "gentleman's
> agreement" to avoid references to specific sects in
> genre fiction or is that just an impression you had?
> And, if there was such an agreement, why was it
> apparently ignored so often?
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