Rev "Bear" Wells

(creator: Stephanie Jaye Evans)

Stephanie Jaye Evans
Rev Walker "Bear" Wells was a former University of Texas football player (he had been offered both an athletic and an academic scholarship and had taken the athletic one) and had gone on to earn a Master of Divinity from Princeton and a Doctorate in Theology from Rice. He was now serving as a minister of the Church of Christ (with a congregation of more than 1000) in the upmarket Texas town of Sugar Land which is "just outside of Houston and on the Gulf coast".
He had written a series of biblical commentaries and has a nice sense of humor. When Detective Wanderley picked up one of his slim volumes and asked, "Is it funny?", Bear replied, "Not intentionally. "

He is a large man, being 6'4" tall, and weighing 235 pounds, and is happily married to Annie Laurie. They have two teenage daughters, Merrie (18) and Jo (14). He acts as narrator throughout. He does not stand by ceremony and is both resolute and self-deprecating. He is in his late forties.

Stephanie Jaye Evans is a fifth generation Texan. She was a minister's daughter and was awarded her BA from Abilene Christian University. After raising three sons, she gained a Master of Liberal Arts degree from Rice University where she wrote her first novel, Faithful Unto Death (reviewed below) as part of her degree work. She won an award for unpublished authors and was then taken up by agent Janet Reid. The mother of seven grown-up children, she lives in Sugar Land, Texas with her (long suffering, she says) husband and pug dogs.

Faithful Unto Death (2012)
Faithful Unto Death introduces us to Rev. Walker "Bear" Wells, who is used to dealing with emotional and spiritual problems in both his flock and his own family but not to murder. But then a man is found dead on the nearby golf course, his skull crushed. It is, or was, prominent attorney Graham Garcia. Det. James Wanderley tries to question Bear about a confidential meeting Bear had had with the victim a week earlier. Bear has no interest in playing detective. His job is praying for the dead, not searching for their killers. But then he finds that the murdered man's son, 16 year old Alex, who is under suspicion of murdering his father, is also dating his own rebellious 14-year-old daughter, Jo. And Alex won't tell anyone where he was on the night when his father died. Bear is asked to talk to him and get him to reveal his secret. And in the end it is Bear who is able to identify the murderer.

The loving relationship between Bear and his wife, Annie Laurie, is brought to life, as is their anxiety about their young daughter Jo, and his fear that she might be pregnant. "Bear," his wife tells him, "you've pointed out half a million times how not having a penis has made me completely unsuited to ever understanding the male psyche –"
"Well, I'm glad you don't."
"Don't understand?"
"Don't have a penis. "I grabbed her just above the knee and pulled her onto my lap. She resisted a second, trying to decide if she was mad or not, then relaxed in my arms ...."

Jo, with her passion for ballet is another realistically drawn character. "I couldn't remember the last time Jo and I had had a really good time together. It seemed like she was always angry at me nowadays, like there wasn't anything I could say that didn't get on her nerves or make her downright mad. Annie Laurie tells me that it's normal, but it never happened between me and Merrie (his older daughter)."

"I said, 'Jo, what about "obey your parents"?"
Joe threw her hands out; the poor child was dealing with density.
'Dad, shit, that's it.'
I started to say something.
Jo said, "Shit is a vulgarity, not a profanity. Nana says you're very vulgar."
I let it pass.
Jo said, 'Dad, I'm sorry I said shit.
But don't you get it? That's what Jesus was saying when he said that "Love me more" thing. It's seriously wrong to abandon a friend; to abandon Alex when he needs me more than he ever did before, that's like, that's going-to-hell wrong. And even if it wasn't wrong, Dad, I will never leave Alex, Dad, he loves me, he believes in me.'
Then the tears, and the rush upstairs, and the slammed bedroom door, and there I sat, two fingers up. "Jo, do you know I believe in you? Do you know I love you?"
It is all very convincingly described.

The story gets off to a lively start, helped by rumbustious characters like Alex's grandfather, HD Parker, confronting the nearest police officer, "Boy! I'm HD Parker and I'm here to get my grandson out of prison! .... You've got my grandson! You're treating him like a murderer! That boy is no murderer. He's in the Honor Society at Clements High School. Kid plays on the golf team, got a negative three handicap."
It requires, a female officer, "looking big and mad", to sort him out.

The pace of the story does rather sag in the middle, but Bear remains an interesting character and is realistically drawn: when his old Sunday school teacher tells him "Bear, God has put it on me to tell you a hard truth," he tells us, "It always makes me nervous when people feel like God tells them to do something. I never get these crystal-clear-in-your-ear messages from God. And why is it God only sends out messengers with hard truths, never the nice, soft truths?"

he story is told with a gentle sense of humor, as when Bear describes how a woman was "standing at the kitchen sink, her back to us, peeling something with a potato peeler. Potatoes, probably." After a meal, his wife tells him, "Please don't throw the leftovers away just because that is easier than sticking them in Tupperware. Don't give them to Baby Bear (their "horse masquerading as a dog"), either, or you'lll be cleaning up dog mess, from whichever end she expels it, before the evening is over."
Bear comments, "it isn't easy living in a house full of women. Fortunately, God made me a patient man. I went ahead and ate the leftovers myself. Saves time."

Crime-solving pastors, as Wanderley tells him, "or rabbis, or housewives – that's make-believe." But this one comes to life and the author is very down to earth about him: "You want to pray with me, Wanderley?"
Wanderley stood with his hand on the door and his amazing eyebrow did its most amazing trick to date.
"Uh, that's going to be a no, Bear."
He opened the door and stepped out, then stuck his head back in and gave me a hard look.
"And don't be praying for me behind my back, either, preacher. That's seriously not kosher." he left.
I prayed for Wanderley anyway. it's all kosher to me."

Safe from Harm (2013)
Safe from Harm starts with the narrator Bear Wells receiving an ominous text from his fifteen-year-old daughter Jo that simply said: "Come home." He rushes home to find her cradling the dead body of her estranged one-time friend Phoebe. While the death rocks Sugar Land, the apparent suicide seems like an open-and-shut case. But the deeper we dig into Phoebe's life, the more secrets are revealed.

Bear had found it hard enough dealing with Phoebe's skimpy Goth outfits, painful-looking piercings, and the outrageous scandals she brought to his idyllic Sugar Land congregation, but now it's his daughter who is being difficult. And she admits that even she had once wished that Phoebe were dead.

Bear is painfully aware that his last private investigation resulted in a bullet wound, so when Jo sneaks out alone to confront her primary suspect, he's not only praying that he'll find her in time - he's asking forgiveness for what he may have to do to save her.

The author is good at describing inter-marital relationships, especially at times of crisis or grief (as when Bear goes to tell Phoebe's parents what has happened to her), but there is not much dramatic action except when Bear has to struggle with a drunk old suspect who is trying to shoot him and ends up by getting arrested himself. However, the eventual denoument in which Jo gets kidnapped and Bear rushes off to rescue her is nothing if not melodramatic. He picks up the heaviest (garden) gnome he could find ("We don't do Hail Marys in the Church of Christ, but I threw one in anyway") and hit the back of the villain's head "so hard, it forced his head forward with enough force to smack it against the kitchen table before breaking." Subsequently the gnome's lady owner tells him, "Your daughter tells me Hilliard gave his life to save hers. He would have liked that."
'Oh, dear God. I'd gotten someone else killed. Hilliard?"
"The gnome."

The author writes throughout in a chatty cozy style, as when she tells us: "Baby Bear (Bear's huge Newfoundland dog) is fast. He is. For a big dog, he can make tracks. I guarantee you that on the long run, Baby Bear would leave Tommy (a visiting pug) floating in the dust. But for manoeuvrability – well, Tommy weighed 25 pounds to Baby Bear's 180. It was like pitting a Mini Cooper against a Mack truck: the Mini Cooper has go-kart handling, and so does Tommy. Tommy literally ran circles around Baby Bear, and then expanded the circles into figure eights so that I was included in the game, too. Baby Bear couldn't even track Tommy with his eyes, Tommy was that fast." And so it goes on, and on.

Bear doesn't seem at all overwhelmed by his church duties so has plenty of time to join in lengthy chats with all and sundry - and he even chats directly to the reader too: "You know that play, No Exit? One of those French Existentialist chaps wrote it. It's about personalized Hell." He is not really much of a detective - more a happy conversationalist. But he certainly gets people to talk.

The author has her own website that includes her blog and even a link to an interview she had with a speaking cat. How cozy can you get? There is a brief interview with her on the Anne K Albert blog.

Please sign my GUEST BOOK. All comments, contributions (or corrections) welcomed!


Faithful Unto Death cover
The cover suggests the beauty of Sugar Land but doesn't give much clue as to the content of the book.
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