Blog posts about the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries and their author Rabbi Ilene Schneider

And now for something completely (well, somewhat) different. I’ve given my space to author Donna Fletcher Crow. And she’s given her space to me. You can read my thoughts at:

Donna Fletcher Crow among the tombstones, Wales

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 38 books, mostly novels dealing with British history. The award-winning Glastonbury, an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work. Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho. They have 4 adult children and 11 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener.

Her newest release is A Darkly Hidden Truth, book 2 in her clerical mystery series The Monastery Murders. She also writes the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the romantic suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries. To read more about these books and to see book videos for A Darkly Hidden Truth and for A Very Private Grave, Monastery Murders 1, as well as pictures from Donna’s garden and research trips go to:

Clerical Mysteries: What and Why?

I’m so delighted to be doing a blog exchange today with Rabbi Ilene Schneider because we both write in the somewhat esoteric subgenre of Clerical Mysteries and I think it’s going to be great fun sharing our perspectives. So, when you finish reading this article, please come on over to “Deeds of Darkness; Deeds of Light”  and see what Ilene has to say about her Rabbi Aviva Cohen mysteries.

When A Very Private Grave the first of my Monastery Murders was published in 2010 I found myself scrambling to explain just what a clerical mystery is, so I turned to my friends on GoodReads for help. One reader said, “I’d say all that’s required is that the church (or synagogue, monastery or convent) or clergy, rabbi, nuns, or monks should be prominent in the story.”

That seems like a good start, although I think the ecclesiastical setting needs to be more than just background. The religious element actually needs to form the thoughts and actions of the main characters. They need to be more than simply photographed against an interesting Gothic background. Or as the Clerical Detectives website puts it, “characters whose lives really were influenced by their faiths.” Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Ferguson stories are an excellent example of this where everything Clare does and thinks is formed by the fact that she is a priest.

Another reader said, “It seems to me that all the mysteries I think of as [clerical] do more or less have a spiritual theme.” And here it seems that we are getting close to the heart of the matter. Until I begin trying to define more sharply and realize that all mysteries are about the clash of good versus evil and strive for the triumph of right over wrong— What P. D. James calls “bringing order out of chaos.”

Perhaps Phil Rickman, one of my all-time favorites, is wise when he refuses to label his Merrily Watkins books. He says, “I absolutely did not want to go there. Too cosy, too safe, and too… well, too religious, I suppose.”

And perhaps the fluidity of the subgenre is one of the things that appeals to me. I guess it comes down to the fact of novels in this category being as wide— and as endlessly engrossing— as the whole matter of faith itself.

Then, as to the “Why” of going there, that was a question that much perplexed my heroine, too. Felicity, a very modern young American woman, who found she hated teaching Latin and didn’t know what else to do with her classics degree, went off to study theology in a monastery in Yorkshire “in a fit of madness” as she says, and then wonders what she’s gotten herself into:

What was the right term to describe how she was living? Counter-cultural existence? Alternate lifestyle? She pondered for a moment,

A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH: Book 2 of the Monastery Murders

then smiled. Parallel universe. That was it. She was definitely living in a parallel universe. The rest of the world was out there, going about its everyday life, with no idea that this world existed alongside of it.

It was a wonderful, cozy, secretive feeling as she thought of bankers and shopkeepers rushing home after a busy day, mothers preparing dinner for hungry school children, farmers milking their cows— all over this little green island the workaday world hummed along to the pace of modern life. And here she was on a verdant hillside in Yorkshire living a life hardly anyone knew even existed. Harry Potter. It was a very Harry Potter experience.

Therein, I think, lies much of answer to why I write what I do: This is a world — parallel universe— I have become acquainted with through my own research of English history, my own spiritual journey, and my daughter’s decision to— yes— study theology in a remote monastery in Yorkshire after finding she really, really hated teaching school in London. (Well, literature follows life.) And I found myself wanting to share this world and some of the amazing adventures I had tromping over ancient holy sites.

Background is always one of the most important factors in a novel for me— perhaps even the most important factor— so my books have to be set in places I love to visit, both for the research and for living there mentally while I write. My Clerical mysteries The Monastery Murders give me the opportunity to do just that.

I realize, of course, that all that still doesn’t answer the question of why I am so drawn to this esoteric world I reflect in my Monastery Murders series. But I wonder how many of us can define the source of our passions? I always tell beginning writers, “Write from your passion.” The most fortunate people are those whose passion has found them. And I do believe that’s the way it works. Does anyone ever get up in the morning and say, “Today I’m going to decide on my passion?” Or when making out new year’s resolutions put “Find passion” on their list? Surely it’s more of a realization, sudden or gradual, that “This is what I love. Here is something worth spending my time on.”

At the end of the day, what could possibly be better than getting paid (at least a little bit) to do the thing I love doing most and still taking time out to drink tea, prune my roses and eat chocolate?


  1. I love this blog exchange, Donna! And I feel the “bringing order out of chaos” motivation very deeply–in clerical mysteries and others. But I think I agree most with your conjecture that the reason behind out passions lies at least partially hidden.

  2. This was such a fun exchange, Ilene. Wouldn’t Felicity and Aviva have adventures to share if they could get together. Thank you somuch for hosting me.

    • I agree – it would be fun to have the two meet up (and solve a mystery, of course).

      Look on the right column of this site, under “recent posts,” and click on “How Rabbi Aviva Cohen Met Sammy Greene” to read my first (and, so far, only) attempt to have two fictitious characters by different authors interact.

      I’ve already been giving some thought as to how Aviva and Felicity could meet. I’ll email you my ideas.

  3. Phil Rickman? Wow! I haven’t read him in years. I love his stuff.

  4. I’ve read both of your blogs now, and I’m fascinated. I can see I’m going to have to add to my pile of books waiting to be read.

    I believe in writing clerical mysteries you have an extra degree of difficulty, and yet it sounds like you both do it so well.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

  5. I didn’t know there was a genre of clerical mysteries-fascinating. I can see the suspense and intrigue in the world of monasteries and old England. Enjoyed your post.

  6. Carole Avila said:

    Thank you for the terrific read. I enjoyed reading the exchange and appreciate you sharing your experience.

    The Posse

  7. Wonderful exchange. Why clerical mysteries for me? I think one big reason is that I am a person of strong religious faith, and the series by both these women enhance that, and teach me much about my fellow believers. Not only that, they both write cracking good stories!

  8. I love this. And oh to see those verdant Yorkshire hill-sides again.

  9. […] had just gotten Donna Fletcher Crow’s A Darkly Hidden Truth book to review when she wrote a post, Clerical Mysteries: What and Why, on a blog I follow. Reading her post made me want to dig right into her book. A Darkly Hidden […]

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