Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at www.jeannematthews.com.
The Catholic Church is in the process of deciding whether to make G.K. Chesterton a saint! How thrilling is that? Before the Chesterton campaign, I would never have believed that someone who plotted murder for a living could become beatified. Barriers have fallen and I, for one, am inspired. This is bound to encourage those of us in the trade who never dreamed that one of our disreputable ilk might someday be fitted out for a halo. Of course Chesterton produced more than just detective fiction. He wrote books about St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, and an influential volume of Christian apologetics titled Orthodoxy. But still. A crime writer among the heavenly hosts! You’ve got to love it.
In addition to writing the Father Brown mysteries, the man swilled beer by the gallon, smoked numberless cigars (which he regarded as “the ichor of mental life”), and chowed down like a trencherman. It’s a relief to learn that none of these habits is a bar to canonization. Raymond Chandler might say that a crime writer with a halo will be about “as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.” Exactly right. Saint G.K. will be singularly conspicuous and think what a boost to the genre. If one of our own is sanctified, it just might put an end to literary snobbery. Saint Francis de Sales, the patron saint of mainstream authors, may have been an eloquent stylist, but compared with Chesterton, he was boring as a wet weekend in the village without a murder.
His Holiness, Pope Francis – a longtime fan of Chesterton – was an early supporter of sainthood. He got the canonical ball rolling back when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. But before a candidate can be officially declared a saint, he has to have two posthumous miracles to his credit. To that end, the Pope has approved the distribution of thousands of holy cards written in English, Spanish, and Italian. These cards invite Catholics with problems to pray for Saint G.K.’s intercession on their behalf. If, after you have prayed for his help, a happy solution falls out of the sky, it counts as a miracle performed and confirmed. G.K. will be one step closer to claiming that halo.
Oh, there are a few naysayers. One critic in particular, a Mr. Steven Drummel, claims that G.K. was a drunkard and a glutton and therefore should be disqualified from consideration. It’s true that at his death, Chesterton weighed over three hundred pounds. His coffin was too large to fit through the door and had to be lowered through a window on ropes. He ate mostly beef and drank mostly beer, although he never turned up his nose at a good bottle of burgundy. He disliked vegetables and vegetarians and, rather more troubling, there is evidence that he disliked Jews. Both his fiction and non-fiction contain questionable caricatures and stereotypes.
Chesterton’s devotees hotly deny the charge of anti-Semitism but, even had he been the worst kind of a bigot, the pantheon of saints is crowded with sinners who saw the light and repented. Thieves, prostitutes, murderers – all forgiven, quite a few inducted into the select club of the Holy Saints. And G.K.’s sins were not heinous. His murders were all fiction (so far as we know) and he possessed many endearing virtues. Wearing his signature flowing cape and raffish slouch hat, he always made the sign of the cross before entering a room – frequently with a struck match before using it to light his cigar; he never failed to stand up in the presence of a lady; and he amused children at birthday parties by daring them to throw buns at him and catching the flying treats in his mouth. Heaven could use a man with such gusto and humor.
But from my perspective, Chesterton’s greatest virtue was his defense of the detective story as a legitimate form of art. He credited the popular mystery with rising above “the babble of pedantry and preciosity.” The detective novel, he said, was the only art to consider the common man and contemporary manners. It reminds us that “morality is the darkest and most daring of conspiracies” and the detective, standing alone against evil, is the agent of social justice and the “original knight errant.”
The Church does not create saints. It recognizes them. And it’s high time we crime writers had ourselves a patron saint, someone who will go to bat for us On High. I’m already beaming up my prayers to G.K. If I suddenly become a bestselling novelist, you’ll know that he’s scored his first confirmed miracle. It only takes two. I urge all of you mystery writers out there to hop on the bandwagon and start praying. Ask for a three-book deal, a million dollar advance, the Edgar Award, a review in the New York Times. See what G.K. can do for you. As Father Brown said, “The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.”