by Jeff Reynolds
I'm excited to have Donna Fletcher Crow back with Sleuths and Suspects. We'll be giving away a copy of her latest Monastery Murder (e-book) -- check to see what the rules are below.
This is the third time Donna has been here. Heidi Glick interviewed her about three years ago when the first Monastery Murder, A Very Private Grave, was released. Last year, I interviewed her about the third book, An Unholy Communion. If you want to recall those interviews, here are the links:
Jeff Reynolds: Welcome back to Sleuths and Suspects, Donna. Let me start by asking you what's new with you both in the literary world and in the literal one (other than the most recent Monastery Murder) since you last visited us in April, 2013?
Donna Crow: Thank you, Jeff. I’m delighted to be back. I always love visiting with readers. Top of the list in the “What’s new?” category has to be two new grandchildren. Our daughter Elizabeth in Calgary had Lucy Alexandra last September and our daughter-in-law Mindy here in Boise gave birth to Asher Hudson in March. That brings the grand total to 13 grandchildren.
In my writing life my 44th book, A Jane Austen Encounter, Book 3 in my Elizabeth and Richard literary suspense series came out last autumn.
JR: The Monastery Murders are towards the top of my list of my all-time favorite series, and Father Anthony is my favorite fictitious character (I could make a joke that he took over from fellow Brit James Bond, but Bond was displaced when I was still in High School -- by Hercule Poirot as well as others). Would you like to tell us about the latest addition to the series?
DC: What wonderful company for Father Antony! And I’m sure he’s very honoured. But I’m afraid Antony needs all the support you can give him this time because he really has his hands full in A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary. Felicity is off to do a spot of translating for a community of nuns in Oxford and in spite of Antony’s warning her not to get into trouble we all know her proclivity for running headlong into danger. Then he learns that he must rush to the bedside of his Uncle Edward who raised Antony and his sister. All that just a few days before he is to lead a seminar of students in Oxford. Then he finds out that Felicity has forged an uneasy friendship with his estranged sister Gwena and expects him to make peace in the family. Then one of his students is killed in a ghastly accident. Or was it an accident?
JR: In your previous interview you referred to this book as A Muffled Tolling. What led to the renaming of the book?
DC: That’s right, Jeff. A Muffled Tolling was my working title for this book because English change-ringing and the tradition of muffling, or more specifically half-muffling, bells for funerals and commemorations of the dead—something that has always fascinated me—is such an important part of this story. This seemed particularly appropriate because the book is set at the time of All Souls’ and my daughter had told me about her experience of muffling bells at Oxford for the commemoration.
My editor, however, didn’t feel it sounded sufficiently mysterious. We worked very hard on this title, e-mailing long lists of possibilities (some of them quite dreadful) back and forth until the word “crimsoned” jumped out at me from an Easter hymn. Reliquaries are an important part of the plot as well, so bells were abandoned for the title. “Newly” was my editor’s contribution. This was all quite a process, but I’m pleased with the results in the end.
JR: Hope you don't mind if I regress to your previous installment, An Unholy Communion. That story had a very strong spiritual warfare theme. What inspired that focus, and how does that focus relate to us in the U.S. in 2014?
DC: One of the reasons I write murder mysteries is because they so clearly illustrate the clash between good and evil in our world and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Certainly that struggle is presented more concretely in An Unholy Communion because my characters are faced with actual satanic worship. This was a very hard book to write because I had to research the occult and learned things I’d really rather not know about. I chose the theme, though, because I wanted to show the reality of evil in our world. None of the demonic manifestations in my plot are made up. They are all based on experiences recorded by priests working in Deliverance ministry.
JR: An interesting thing about spiritual warfare is that it often manifests in the physical realm, and A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary gives some illustrations of it, dealing with persecution believers endure both from unbelievers and from those who claim the name of Christ. Do you see persecution of Christians as a threat in our society? If so, how can we prepare for it?
DC: When I was a child demonic practices like those in An Unholy Communion were something missionaries told about when they returned from foreign fields. Certainly nothing that would happen here. And the persecution of Christians happened in Roman times and behind the Iron Curtain. I am constantly amazed at how close to home all of that has come just in my lifetime. I think the only possible defense is a strong prayer life and a supportive community of believers.
JR: The highlight in this novel (I could say the highlight in the series, though the youth pilgrimage in An Unholy Communion rivals that) is the debate between an atheist and Father Anthony. So let me ask my usual multi-part question: First, should apologetics be a part of our lives as a believer? Second, is telling stories more effective than dealing with, for example, the classic arguments of God's existence which Father Anthony considered using?
DC: You never do ask easy questions do you, Jeff? That debate was nothing I had ever planned to write. I usually try to make my arguments less combatively, but debating is such a hallowed Oxford tradition (my model for the evening was actually the Oxford Union, but I didn’t call it that) that the scene just fell into place.
I certainly believe we need to know what we believe and why we believe it. I believe theology is very important. The question is how to present it best to a world that really doesn’t want to listen. For that, look to the Scriptures: Jesus told parables. The Bible itself is a narrative—the story of God’s redemptive acts among His people.
JR: What's next, both in the Monastery Mysteries and in your other fictious endeavors?
DC: Last week I sent The Flame Ignites, an Elizabeth and Richard prequel to my publisher. This goes back to 1984 and tells how Elizabeth and Richard first met. All the books in that series have literary figures in the background and for this book it’s the beloved American novelist Elswyth Thane and Rudyard Kipling.
Later today I will start the next Monastery Murder, which I’m calling An All-Consuming Fire. Antony has been asked to narrate a BBC documentary on the English Mystics Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing. Felicity is determined to stay quietly behind in the Community of the Transfiguration because her mother (remember the prickly Cynthia from A Darkly Hidden Truth?) is coming over to spend Christmas with her and help her prepare for their Epiphany wedding. I am wondering just how well that will work out.
JR: Thank you for your time, Donna. To refresh everybody's memory, how can they keep up with your latest activities?
DC: Thank you, Jeff. It’s always a delight to visit with you and I love the opportunity to get acquainted with your readers.
To read more about all of my books and see pictures from my garden and research trips, including my bell-ringing lesson with the Oxford University Society of Change Ringers, go to: http://www.donnafletchercrow.com/ and I would love to have you follow me on Facebook at: http://ning.it/OHi0MY
Jeff to reader: At this point, it's time for a giveaway of an e-book version of A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary. Here are the rules:
- Leave a comment. That easy enough?
- Include your e-mail address so we can notify you. You can write it out if you wish, like AuntDotKahm(at)Ant(dot)com.
- Finally, what do you think is the best way to prepare for persecution/spiritual warfare/defending the faith? Or do you think these issues are better left to theologians and ministers?