by Sharon Tucker
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“Fathers are important,” Jesse Stone tells a rebellious teenager in Robert B. Parker’s Night Passage. Love him or hate him, whether he is too present in your life or too absent, whether he’s a good father or a nightmare, and even if he is all of the above–we recognize the father as an inescapable archetype whose influence reverberates throughout our lives, proving to be infinitely fertile ground for writers to plunder. Lee Harris’s The Father’s Day Murder makes surprising use of the holiday as the major theme at the heart of her novel. Jonathan Kellerman’s The Butcher’s Theater strongly illustrates the influence for good or ill a father wields. Leonard Holton’s Out Of The Depths reminds us that not all good fathers sire children.
Even if you’re a stickler for reading your mystery series in order of publication date, there’s nothing wrong with starting smack in the middle of Harris’s eminently readable series of “holiday” murders. The Father’s Day Murder is a good place to begin–considering the holiday itself approaches–and, never fear, the author gives appropriate background information on her characters in each and every Chris Bennett novel to catch you up on who we are and why we are there. Bennett, a former Franciscan nun, is an unusual sleuth. She is not a police officer (although someone in the family is) and neither is she a private investigator, although she serves as an unpaid, unofficial private inquiry agent. In The Father’s Day Murder she is tasked with finding out who killed Arthur Wein, an award-winning novelist, as he celebrates a reunion with his friends of 50 years. Wein may have been the best known of his circle, but he was hardly the best beloved. As Bennett questions each friend present when the victim was dispatched, she finds each had reasons to both love and hate him–and one of them put an ice pick in his chest. Who in the group isn’t a suspect, turns out to be the question.
From the quiet world of an unofficial detective solving a mystery rooted in the aftermath of WWII, we transition to the hills of one of the holiest of cities in the world, Jerusalem. A night watchman discovers the body of a young Arab girl–only the first in what will become a series of cruel murders all too reminiscent of the work of the gray man, a murderer still at large. Jonathan Kellerman’s The Butcher’s Theater is set in a late 20th century Jerusalem on the verge of riot as the murders continue, but here Chief Inspector Daniel Sharavi brings together an ethnically diverse group of detectives to utilize as many points of view and insights available to the team in solving these crimes with no clues. In this Jerusalem, no father’s daughter is safe making the theme of fathers one of the most recurrent in the novel. Kellerman’s insights into the crucial importance of fatherhood reveals fathers at their worst in a father who disowns and casts out his daughter over perceived dishonor and yet another whose critically dysfunctional marital relationship has created a son’s textbook pathology. By sharp contrast, Shiravi’s own father–a holocaust survivor–gently instructs his son and the reader by example in living a good life and being the best of parents–a lesson not lost on his son. However, the already high stakes careen out of control as the daughter of one of Shiravi’s team is counted as one of the missing.
We move from a missing child to two suspicious deaths in Los Angeles, California in Leonard Holton’s Out Of The Depths. Father Joseph Bredder, O.F.M., a Franciscan priest and Chaplin of the Holy Innocents Convent, is little more than bemused when he becomes the prime suspect in the murders of both a janitor and a scientist attached to a space technology corporation. That the good Father’s fingerprints were found throughout one of the victim’s apartment does more than bemuse Lt. Minardi, Bredder’s friend and fishing buddy. As the Father calmly and methodically investigates the accumulating evidence, the Los Angeles of 1966 takes center stage. It is an era of corner drug stores, fountain cokes, and a time when calm faith is useful in solving crime. Will Minardi keep his chief from arresting Bredder on suspicion of murder when yet another corpse surfaces?
Forget the crass commercialism surrounding Father’s day–if your father has been a force for good in your life, think of the opportunity that this designated Sunday in June presents to wax lyrical about just a few of the splendid things you know he has done for you. On this day, if on no other, remember the smiles, the encouragement, and the solid support he has given you. Consider that you are unaware of even more he has done on your behalf, never expecting acknowledgement–in fact–if acknowledged, he would be embarrassed. Forgive his failures and be generous. He deserves it.
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