Cover of "The Sixth Lamentation (Father A...

Cover via Amazon

Went to a fascinating talk yesterday with William Brodrick at the Edinburgh Book Festival.  Brodrick was an Augustinian friar for five years, before leaving to work with the homeless and eventually retraining as a barrister.  His first novel, ‘The Sixth Lamentation‘, became an international bestseller, and launched a new detective,  Father Anselm onto the world.  The sales went through the roof when Richard and Judy (a popular married couple who host a daytime TV show) chose it for their book club.  This endorsement has a similar effect in the UK as Oprah does in the US.  It has left me considering the enduring fascination of the spiritual sleuth, because what really makes a story a classic is not that it is ‘Who done it’  but it is because it becomes a ‘Why done it’.  The spiritual sleuth allows ruminations on the human condition that lift us above the cliché of the burnt out detective struggling with his own demons.  This maybe the reason that Father Anselm has led to Broderick being awarded the Golden Dagger – an illustrious annual award by the Crime Writers Association.


Brother Cadfael

Father Anselm is the latest in a long line of religious detectives in British Literature, Chesterton’s Father Brown and Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael being recent examples.  Broderick had some very interesting things to say about the Spiritual Figure in the crime genre, about how their interest will be greater than the immediate evidence to hand, with a special interest in the alluring dark corners of a person’s conscience.  Priests are used to ‘excavating silence’ and have become weather-beaten spectators to the dramas and tragedies of humanity, with the seal of the confessional providing a safe space for the soul to be bared.  A good crime novel is an engaging meditation on the problem of evil, exploring the motivations behind horrendous acts, the consequences of them and often the lack  of remorse.   At its best crime literature may even offer a meditation of the problem of good…. why under terrible conditions do some people live heroic lives and act in such a self sacrificing way? It was interesting to hear Broderick say that his editors keep on urging him not to keep redeeming his evil characters, it seems as though the compassionate pastoral side of him did not leave him when he left the Augustinians!  But therein lies a serious point – radical evil is a mystery. Its dark heart so repulsive that very few intrepid explorers can take it on, and within all of is is the temptation is just to deflect it, rationalise it or demonise it.

Oh by the way – Broderick’s new and fourth book – The Day of the Lie – has a written dedication in the first pages to our own Gerry J Hughes SJ, who taught him philosophy at Heythrop.