Sunday, November 27, 2016

Book Review: Reverend Randollph and the Holy Terror

Title: Reverend Randollph and the Holy Terror (Book 4 of 7; Amazon has a photo for Book 5)

Reverend Randollph and the Unholy Bible

Author: Charles Merrill Smith

Date: 1980

Publisher: Putnam

ISBN: 0-399-12461-6 (click the number to buy this volume on Amazon)

Length: 236 pages

Quote: “Next week he [Reverend Randollph] would benamed permanent pastor…And…In an hour or so he would be married to a beautifulred-haired divorcĂ©e ex-Presbyterian agnostic named Samantha Stack.”

But the bridegroom won’t get much honeymoon time before a serial murderer starts sending unpleasant little poems to ministers just before he kills them, and once again, in this fourth volume of his adventures as a professional minister and amateur detective, Randollph has to find the murderer…before the murderer finds him.

These detective stories, where the detective is a young, active, muscular preacher, are very far from traditional “devotional reading.” Apart from the fairly “clean” murders (Smith didn’t go in for gross-outs) there’s a fair bit of attention to Randollph’s enjoyment of food (which is not quite gluttony) and married life (which is not quite lust, although his marriage is of course controversial).

Smith assumes that readers are familiar with the Gospel story, and throws in background scenes in which Randollph both preaches and practices his religion: “Take it easy, Randollph warned himself. Be kind. Be gracious. Remember that he is a child of God, even if you wonder just what God had in mind when He created Sad Tad Barry.”This leads into a discussion of contemporary TV shows, where Randollph then quietly defends George Carlin’s “seven dirty words” by reminding everyone that one of them is found in the Bible. (King James' and Geneva translations, anyway.)

I suspect that a lot of Smith went into the characterization of Randollph, although too often for my taste Randollph comes across as just another of the dare-to-be-trendy “liberalizers” who were far too quick to forget the positive value of the traditions they rushed to discard. (He was different from many of them, at the time, because he was young and, before returning to full-time preaching, had been a professional football player. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes were meant to enjoy this series.) In this book, when Reverend Randollph sits down to meet the serial murderer known as the Holy Terror, he sensibly surrounds himself with a posse including his good friend the bishop—and what they do, while they wait, is play poker. Yes, poker. For money, even though the money will go back to the church. The murderer will come to Randollph’s door and find the preacher, the bishop, a police officer, and a buddy known as “Sticky Henderson,” gambling.

The Reverend Randollph stories weren’t written as a study of the Seven Deadly Sins—although Randollph keeps reminding people that lust was only one of the traditional seven. In this one, the focus of attention seems to be not one of the seven, but the Unpardonable Sin of Impenitence that makes any of the others really deadly. Each of the murder victims is reminded of some long-buried source of unconfessed guilt from his past, and…that’s a clue, so I’ll stop. 

Dorothy Sayers’ murder mysteries tried to rise above the limitations of the genre by using Lord Peter Wimsey’s post-traumatic stress to remind readers that even fictional murders were serious matters. Smith’s go further, of course, by making a church the background of Randollph’s life and the setting of some of the mysteries he’s called to solve. That said, are these books really suitable for “Sunday” reading? My own day of rest and worship happens to be Saturday, anyway, in honor of which my web site seldom displays anything on a Saturday. Whether you read murder mysteries on weekdays, on your day of rest and worship (if any), or at all, is entirely up to you.

To buy the Reverend Randollph books here, send $5 per book + $5 per package + $1 per online payment to either address at the very bottom of the screen. All seven books would thus cost you $45 (postal money order to Box 322, pay the surcharge directly to the post office) or $46 (Paypal payment to the address salolianigodagewi sends you, we pay the surcharge to Paypal). If you find a lower price online, feel free to take advantage of it.