08 October 2009

If you feed a Quaker a mystery...

I confess, I'm a closet mystery novel reader.  I devour them at the rate of one or two a week.  It's gotten so that I can scarcely find a good novel in this genre that meets my criteria.  You see, though I crave a good mystery, it must be written by a good author, who will teach me something and have a plot that is complex enough that I cannot figure it out in the first two chapters.  And I pride myself on figuring them out, fast.

Over the years I've learned alot about my favorite place, the desert Southwest, through the novels of Tony Hillerman, Aimee Thurlo, Margaret Coel and a host of others.  It's a way for me to travel vicariously.  If I pick up a bit of Native American lore along the way, so much the better.

To feed my fantasy of owning a bookstore and herb shop, I read Susan Wittig Albert, who has for years been writing mysteries from the perspective of just such a woman, who excels as a sleuth as well.  For my forensic psychology tastes, there is Jonathan Kellerman, author of the Alex Delaware series of mysteries.

Since I was a little child, I have used reading as the ultimate escape; a vacation without leaving home.  I'm blessed with a vivid imagination, and movies often leave me flat if I've read the book first, because they cannot come close to what my mind can conjure up!

Don't get me wrong, I read my share of Quaker classics and modern non-fiction.  I read the Bible and other spiritual teachings (notably Testament of Devotion by Thomas Kelly).  But for sheer entertainment, give me a mystery, thick with metaphor and dripping with hidden innuendo.

There's only one place where my Quakerism and my pleasure reading really cross, and that's in Irene Allen's mysteries.  Irene Allen is actually Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, who is a retired faculty member from the Geology Dept of Washington State University.  This itself is a fact that was hidden from me until recently.

The creation of the character Elizabeth Elliott, a Quaker elder from Cambridge, Mass meeting is nothing less than genius.  Through Elizabeth, and her incredibly hapless congregation of Friends, we learn just how Friends live in the modern world.  In her books, I have read about Friends' stance on the War Tax, how we get along with conflicts in the Quaker community, how everyday decisions are made, and how to conduct one's self in public. 

Today in my morning meditation, Elizabeth came to visit me once more, as I sat with my cat contemplating how to proceed in some decisions about my work and spiritual life.  Countless times (but not enough...there are only 4 books) I have sat, as Elizabeth does, in the sun, with my cat at my arm, considering some decision and how I should proceed.  I don't have the wisdom of years that Elizabeth (Kirsten?) does, but I borrow from the elders I have met over the years.

If I want an easy way to show people how and who we Quakers are, I often find myself recommending these dry, humorous novels.  Without even realizing, under the guise of good entertainment, readers will finding themselves drenched in Quaker tradition and language.  Through Elizabeth's eyes, outsiders can learn how decisions are made and ethical issues addressed.

If you haven't read these juicy little morsels yet, you should.  You'll have to search for them in used books stores, but they are usually easy to find.  You too can vicariously enjoy being an amateur sleuth, through the adventures of Elizabeth Elliott.

Nothing like a good mystery to replenish the drained batteries of the soul!

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