When a priest is found strangled in front of the altar of his Detroit church, the immediate assumption is that he was killed by a burglar. But neither the investigating officer nor the slain priest’s replacement thinks this seemingly simple solution is the answer to the case.
That is the major premise of “Let the Dead Bury the Dead,” the latest mystery by Franklin College professor David Carlson.
The first book in Carlson’s Christopher Worthy-Father Fortis series, “Enter by the Narrow Gate,” focused primarily on Father Nicholas Fortis, a Greek Orthodox priest. The second trains the reader’s attention more on Worthy, a Detroit homicide detective. For that reason, the book is more of a police procedural than a sociological examination.
But that’s not to say that the work is strictly a whodunit. Father Fortis is serving as an interim priest in the Detroit church where the priest was murdered. In addition to helping Worthy in the investigation, Father Fortis also must navigate the many shoals of congregational ministry. Since Father Nick normally spends his time as a contemplative in a monastery, running a local church poses unique challenges. This clearly is one of the novel’s more enjoyable side plots.
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The detective is the focus of his own secondary plot line, this one involving his relationship with his superiors and colleagues in the police department. His highly successful but unorthodox approach to investigation riles some fellow officers and challenges the patience of his commanders.
All are willing to give him latitude to operate, but in one case it’s in the hope that he will fail and in the other case it’s hoped he will succeed.
Worthy also is the focus of another secondary plot line, this one involving his relationship with his daughter, a onetime runaway. This aspect is less satisfying than the others but by no means detracts from the overall effectiveness of the work.
Despite these subsidiary plots, the major characters do not exist in parallel worlds. Worthy’s primary line of investigation stems from an observation by Father Nick involving a religious issue. Without it, the death would have been treated as a botched burglary gone very wrong.
Carlson throws in a twist almost at the close of the novel that readers should enjoy; although, there is no way for them to anticipate the development. So those readers who enjoy solving the mystery ahead of the protagonists are going to be disappointed and perhaps even feel a bit manipulated.
But that’s a small criticism and not one that’s going to bother many readers.
In all, this is a readable and engaging novel. Carlson’s characters are real and relatable.
The quality of a mystery series lies not in how well-crafted the first book is but in how well-written the second is. In this case, the second installment matches the first in quality and likely will leave readers eagerly awaiting installment number three.
Title: “Let the Dead Bury the Dead”
Author: David Carlson
Length: 197 pages
Publisher: Coffeetown Press
Book-signing: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Henderson Conference Room in the Johnson Center for Fine Arts at Franklin College. Includes short reading, Q&A session, refreshments.