Being a chaplain myself, I could not resist getting my hands on a whodunit whose detective is a female hospital chaplain. Having a protagonist with a day job like that is not totally outlandish, because chaplains and detectives have more in common than you might think. But before I go on in this vein, I’d like to introduce you to a few samples from this suspense-filled comedic and at times “offbeat” murder mystery, which is one reason I am writing about it here. The other reason is that the portrayal of healthcare chaplains in literature is of interest. Set in North Carolina, A Murder in Mount Moriah by Mindy Quigley opens with a Civil War reenactment. Despite all the bullets in the guns being blanks, one of the soldiers is shot for real.
The following refers to the shooting and then describes Lindsay’s routine as an on-call chaplain at night. It just so happens that during her shift she comes across the man who was shot and sees his wife there as well as she enters his hospital room. As Quigley does throughout the book, her powers of description are well, powerful. That alone is an achievement, since most authors do not make the setting sound engaging. Her setting is practically a character itself. Here is her description of that encounter:
“The events of the previous night seemed like a dream. At the beginning of her night shift, Lindsay had fallen into a fitful sleep in the hospital’s tiny chaplain’s bedroom. Around 1 a.m. she had been awaked by a page from the ICU. She had zombie-walked down the dimly lit hallway and up two flights of stairs passing through the main intensive care room, where the beds’ occupants lay sleeping and still—a row of sarcophagi. At the end of the room, a little hall led to two private rooms. Lindsay knocked on one of the doors.
‘Come in,’ a woman responded.
Lindsay opened the door. It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the fluorescent lights that blazed from the ceiling, illuminating vinyl seat coverings, laminate tables, and curtains that forged an unholy alliance between paisley and polyester. Vernon Young, a plump yet sturdy-looking black man in his early thirties, lay in bed, connected to an array of life-support machines and monitors. Kimberlee Young, his wife, looked up wearily from her sentry post at his bedside. She had an appealing chubbiness and freckles that dotted her pale white skin like confetti. Her eyes were red-rimmed and swollen.”
In this next selection, which I am adding purely for fun, she describes a meeting of another kind: man vs. squirrel. Lindsay’s home guest Drew met his match while in the bathroom, and Lindsay started to help him by telling him to scare it away with some noise:
“Drew waved his arms noncommittally and made a low grunting sound through his gritted teeth. The effect was something akin to a talentless actor portraying a very unconvincing Frankenstein Monster. He took a step toward the squirrel. Instead of fleeing away, the squirrel made some kind of irrational calculus in its terrified brain; it dashed straight toward Drew. Drew hurtled himself backward to evade it. His knees buckled as he hit the edge of Lindsay’s large, claw-footed bathtub, and he tumbled head over heels back into it. The squirrel, in a surge of adrenaline-fueled frenzy, leapt upwards. With the grace of a kung fu master, it kicked off a wall, using its momentum to propel itself sideways out of the small opening in the window screen. No wires, no special effects. Just 15 ounces of raw squirrel power and the will to get the hell out of that bathroom.”
While the book unfortunately does not illustrate “best practices” of how chaplains offer spiritual care, it does remind me of the more metaphorical connections between chaplains and detectives. Both have to be brave about entering the unknown. Both try to solve mysteries of the human heart. Both try to find the deeper issues and get to the heart of whatever is amiss. And detectives and chaplains strive to help those in spiritual distress reconstruct and make sense of their permanently altered world.
For those interested in reading more of A Murder in Mount Moriah, published by Little Spot Publishing, you can go to Mindy Quigley’s site for more information at: http://mintyfreshmysteries.wordpress.com/the-lindsay-harding-books/