|Reverend C P Randollph is an engaging liberally-minded Methodist clergyman who, before he was ordained, used to play quarterback for the Rams where he earned the nickname Con because of the shrewd ways he conned the opposition. He displays this shrewdness in his detective work too.
He is featured in six clerical mysteries by the American Charles Merrill Smith, himself a United Methodist minister, who used his own first hand experience of the church bureaucracy, as well as his own personal beliefs, to provide his entertaining crime stories with a really fascinating and convincing church background. His first non-fiction book, How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious (published in 1965), had revealed the humorous style (religious but never pious) that he was to develop further in his detection fiction. His irreverent humor won him many admirers among fellow clergy and others, and made the book a best-seller - even if it may not have appealed quite so much to his local bishop!
In 1974 he broke new ground and published his first Randollph novel: Reverend Randollph and the Wages of Sin. This was followed by Reverend Randollph and the Avenging Angel, Reverend Randollph and the Fall from Grace Inc, Reverend Randollph and the Holy Terror, Reverend Randollph and the Unholy Bible, and Reverend Randollph and the Splendid Samaritan.
The "Chicago Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd" where Randollph is said to be based, is on the bottom floors of a glass and steel skyscraper office block that includes a luxury hotel but comes complete with a gothic spire on the very top, with an octagonal penthouse parsonage immediately below it. I had supposed that this was a magnificent comic invention, but discovered from an interesting newsgroup article written by Rev Thomas H Griffith in 1997 that there really is a church very like it: the Chicago Temple, the First United Methodist Church of Chicago.
The author did not take a fundamentalist view of the Bible. In Reverend Randollph and the Wages of Sin, Randollph has to read a passage from Paul's letter to the Corinthians about the resurrection of the dead who had been "sown in dishonor", and he could not help reflecting, "What glorious sounding, sublimely phrased nonsense! .... Were all Christians obligated to believe that procreation could only be accomplished in dishor and weakness?" In the end, hetook early retirement from his busy church in Illinois after a heart attack (it had been a stressful job in a church with a lot of in-fighting), then took a part-time job at a much smaller church in Kansas, where he became a popular writer and lecturer. He is still remembered today for some of his aphorisms (including: "When God created two sexes, he may have been overdoing it" and "If at first you don’t succeed, you must be doing something wrong").
Charles Merrill Smith died in 1986, shortly before he'd finished this last book, which was completed for him by his son Terrance Lore Smith, who intended to continue the Reverend Randollph stories but was himself killed in a car crash two years later. Although his son had published several crime novels of his own, the last part of Reverend Randollph and the Splendid Samaritan is not written with his father's spiritual understanding and this is the least interesting of the series. Together with his father, Charles Merrill Smith, he had co-written Different Drums (1975) which tells the story of their difficult relationship over the years, ending with their eventual reconciliation.
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