Father Tim Devin

(creator: Grace and Harold Johnson)

Grace and Harold Johnson
Roman Collar Detective cover Father Tim Devin is a red-haired freckle-faced Roman Catholic assistant priest at St Mary's parish on the western edge of Golton, Ohio (population 21,398). He had been one of a family of nine, including his brother Bill who had been wounded in Vietnam, and for whom he feels some responsibility. He had been ordained for 13 months. He has brown eyes and dark grizzled hair. "Though not broad, his forehead was the broadest part of a long, thin face. His shoulders had a slight stoop, giving his six-foot frame a shorter appearance."
His closest ally seems to be an 11-year-old old altar boy whose nickname is Muscles, who hero-worships him. It's a completely innocuous relationship, as you would expect from these two authors, for, as the blurb claims, "this story is as wholesome as country air". Father Tim himself emerges as an intelligent but rather naïve character.

Grace and Harold Johnson had been turning out fiction together since 1947. They had used the character of Father Tim in several short stories and so decided to try him in a full-length novel. They also "wanted to write a mystery novel for those who like mysteries and have a difficult time finding one not filled with foul language and sex. We've tried to make our story interesting enough so that it does not have to be helped along on the clutches of sensationalism."
They have described the way they write together: first they plot a general outline, with each taking a portion to write. Then they rewrite each other's work, adding and cutting. They say they never argue over a point the other objects to, having found that "until we are both satisfied, the story isn't right." They each write in such a similar style that once a piece is written neither can pick out fresh or what he or she has written.
They lived in Youngstown, Ohio, where Harold Johnson taught in the Communications Dept of Youngstone University and also at his old alma mater, Rayen High School. Grace had been a schoolteacher and a local reporter.
Sometimes you can see the book credited to just Grace Cecilia Tracy Johnson. There seems a mystery here. Can anyone shed any light on it? I would welcome more information about the authors.

Roman Collar Detective (1953)
Roman Collar Detective starts with the murder of one of Galton's leading citizens. Father Tim's brother, Bill, (who had just returned from Korea with a wounded leg) is near enough to hear the shot - and it is he who becomes the chief suspect when he is found standing over the dead man, wiping his fingerprints from the murder weapon.

Father Tim sets about trying to find the real killer and so clear his brother of the charge of murder. With the help of information from his favourite altar boy "Muscles" O'Rourke, who has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, and who has such a remarkable memory that he can repeat a conversation word for word, he finally works out who the murderer must be: "The thought did odd things to his pulses, causing him to breathe heavily. He had it!"

It is a quite amusing in parts, but is neither a very interesting nor exciting story, as there is much more talk than action. And parts of it sound very stilted, as when Father Tim stands over the murder victim and pronounces, "Let's kneel and say a prayer for the repose of Mr Blake's soul." And when his boss, Father Kearney tells him, "Troubles can usually be overcome by sane reasoning and hard work." And when "Muscles reached out and took hold of the priest's hand. They both stopped momentarily and look into each other's eyes, the priest with deep, penetrating kindness, the boy with loving respect." And when Father Tim tells Bill, "God's ways seem strange to us at times, but He plans well and arranges everything for the best." And when "Muscle's face wore a worried frown." And when "Bill looked squarely into the prosecutor's eyes." And when "Father Tim nodded grimly". It's one cliché after another. But, as the authors intended, it is not at all offensive.

There is hardly a mention of the authors on the web.

The book is hard to find. It was followed in 2013 by a second novel, The Broken Rosary, that it is not only hard to find but very expensive, so I shall not be reviewing it here.

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The cover seems rather run-of-the-mill, as is the story.
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