10 Inspiring Christian Mystery Authors You Can Read Today
- G. Connor Salter SEO Editor
- 2022 18 Nov
There are days when we all need something that helps us relax yet engages our minds more than reality TV or scrolling social media. Christian mystery authors can be a great way to get that relaxation with a bit of excitement.
Almost from the start, mystery stories have raised religious questions. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sherlock Holmes wonders whether this case will bring him face to face with “the father of evil.” During the Golden Age of Detective Fiction in the 1920s-1930s, T.S. Eliot argued that all detective stories are religious. W.H Auden wrote that detective stories highlight how murders break Eden’s high value for life.
“Murder tears a hole in the cosmos. When one man slays another and the guilty party walks free, the universe is out of balance until he is brought to justice.” ("Why Christians Should Read Detective Fiction" by Grayson Quay)
A mystery story can face this religious dilemma in different ways, depending on how the Christian author tackles it. It can be complex to show the messy debates we need to have about good versus sin. It can be dark to show sin’s terrible effects. Or it can be lighthearted to affirm good’s primacy.
These 10 Christian mystery authors leaned toward the lighthearted side, with stories that avoided sex and cursing. A few of them wrote during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction before “Christian Fiction” was an established term. Others are alive today and write Christian Fiction mysteries. Let’s take a look at their careers and their best-known books.
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Moussa81
1. Dorothy L. Sayers
Dorothy L. Sayers wrote many things. As a lay theologian like her friend C.S. Lewis, she wrote important Christian books about creativity (The Mind of the Maker) and theology (Creed or Chaos?). As a playwright, Sayers wrote groundbreaking plays like The Man Born to Be King that put familiar Bible stories in contemporary language. At the end of her life, she moved into the classics and produced a new translation of The Song of Roland and Dante’s Divine Comedy.
However, her first big success came as a mystery novelist, writing about detective Lord Peter Wimsey. Lord Peter isn’t a professional detective, but he can afford to pursue it as a hobby. While not all detectives appreciate his contributions, Scotland Yard detective Charles Parker sees Wimsey’s value.
Whose Body? was published in 1923 and is the first of 11 novels (and various short stories) featuring Wimsey. It opens with what may be the perfect murder mystery setup, one that destroys any chance of finding easy clues:
“The stark, naked body was lying in the tub. Not unusual for a proper bath, but highly irregular for murder—especially with a pair of gold pince-nez deliberately perched before the sightless eyes. What’s more, the face appeared to have been shaved after death. The police assumed that the victim was a prominent financier, but Lord Peter Wimsey, who dabbled in mystery detection as a hobby, knew better. In this, his first murder case, Lord Peter untangles the ghastly mystery of the corpse in the bath.”
2. G.K. Chesterton
Today, G.K. Chesterton is probably best-known for his theology books like Orthodoxy and Everlasting Man. In addition to writing defenses of Christianity, Chesterton also ran his own newspaper, debated men like George Bernard Shaw, and wrote fiction. His novels range from thrillers (The Man Who Was Thursday) to sci-fi (The Ball and the Cross). His most famous fictional character is certainly Father Brown, who you might have seen in Netflix and BBC shows.
The Father Brown mysteries started with the 1910 short story “The Blue Cross,” and Chesterton ultimately wrote 53 short stories about the good father. Each story follows this Catholic priest who lives a quiet life in Essex and seems like the most innocent person you could meet. However, as Father Brown tells a master thief in “The Blue Cross,” it’s not surprising that a priest would understand the criminal mind:
“Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?”
Murders and thefts appear all around Father Brown, frequently involving master criminal Flambeau. The cases may confound police, but Father Brown’s intuition and insights into human nature never fail to save the day.
You can read The Father Brown stories in a variety of collections. The first 12 stories were collected as The Innocence of Father Brown, followed by four other collections while Chesterton was alive. Today, you can get all of them in The Complete Father Brown Stories.
3. Ronald Knox
You may know Ronald Knox’s name if you grew up with the Knox Bible, his translation of Scripture from the Latin Vulgate. Like G.K. Chesterton and Dorothy L. Sayers, Knox was a founding member of the Detection Club, a group of mystery writers living in England that continues to this day.
Knox famously wrote the Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction, rules like “the criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.” And, of course, twins “must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.”
Knox wrote several detective short stories and full-length books. He is best known for his five mystery novels featuring insurance investigator Miles Bredon. Bredon doesn’t try to solve murders, but somehow, he can’t help it. Fortunately, if he gets in too deep, his wife Angela is always there to help him find the solution. The first Miles Bredon novel, The Three Taps, begins with what looks like a simple case:
“In a gas-lit inn in the countryside, a man lies dead. The police, of course, investigate—and so do Miles Bredon and his wife, in the interests of the Indescribable Insurance Company, with which the deceased man, Mr. Mottram, had been heavily insured. The culprit is the three gas taps in Mr. Mottram’s room, and Miles hopes to prove that his death is suicide. Miles’ old wartime colleague, Police Inspector Leyland, is convinced it’s murder. And the conclusion is as ingenious as it is surprising.”
4. Robert Goldsborough
Robert Goldsborough is a Presbyterian elder who spent his regular career working as a journalist for The Chicago Tribune and later as an editor for Advertising Age. In the mid-1980s, he started a side career: writing about Nero Wolfe, the genius detective who solves every crime but never leaves his house. Rex Stout invented Nero Wolfe and chronicled Wolfe’s adventures from 1934 to 1975. With permission from Stout’s estate, Goldsborough continued the Wolfe stories, and the results feel like long-lost Rex Stout novels.
Silver Spire is one of Goldsborough’s more interesting Wolfe novels because it features crimes at a megachurch.
“Staten Island would be forgettable were it not for the gleaming Tabernacle of the Silver Spire, where thousands of congregants come every Sunday to hear the sermons of Barnabas Bay. Millions more tune in on television, giving the good Reverend international fame and a chance to spread the gospel from New York City’s harbor all the way to South Korea. But threatening notes have been appearing in the collection bag, suggesting that one of the faithful has decided it’s time this good shepherd gets the hook. Believing organized religion is nothing more than a scam, rotund sleuth Nero Wolfe refuses to investigate the threats, instead recommending veteran investigator Fred Durkin for the case. But when Durkin is accused of murdering the Reverend’s assistant, Wolfe fights to clear his name.”
Readers who enjoy Goldsborough’s Wolfe novels but want something a little edgier may also enjoy Three Strikes You’re Dead. This is the first of five Goldsborough novels featuring an original character: 1930s police reporter Steve Malek.
5. K.L. Montgomery
K.L. Montgomery is a prolific editor and writer in various genres. She has written nonfiction books about positive body image (The Fat Girl’s Guide to Loving Your Body), romantic comedy novels (the Romance at Rehoboth series, standalone stories like Reconstructed Heart), and multiple mystery series (the Musical Murder Mystery series, the Dangerous Curves series).
Dangerous Curves is probably Montgomery’s best-known series, a lighthearted collection of adventures set in the fictional Bryce Beach community. The series contains eight books so far, following the same cast of main characters handling ever-more complicated crimes. The first book, Betrayal at the Beach, shows how the main character goes from being an everyday librarian to master sleuth:
“When tragedy strikes the Bryce Beach Public Library, the choice is clear for librarian Sunshine Baker: solve the mystery or lose her job. Despite having no prior sleuthing experience, Sunshine feels uniquely qualified due to her ninja YA librarian skills and all those Nancy Drew books she read as a kid. With the help of children’s librarian Molly Simmons and cataloguer Evangeline Dupree, Sunshine and her colleagues scour Bryce Beach for suspects, clues, and the stolen treasure.
Can she and her squad recover the proceeds from the library’s annual fundraising gala and Bryce Beach’s most priceless historical artifact, the Bible with the town’s founding fathers’ signatures? But here’s the most vexing question of all: could one of Sunshine’s colleagues be a backstabbing traitor out to destroy the library? As Sunshine always says, “Jesus, take the wheel!”
6. Heather Day Gilbert
As she says on her website, Heather Day Gilbert writes two things: contemporary mystery/suspense and Viking historicals. Her mystery suspense stories include thrillers (the Hemlock Creek Suspense series), clean but suspenseful crime fiction (the Murder on the Mountain series), and cozy mystery (Barks & Beans Café Cozy Mysteries, the Exotic Pet Sitter Mysteries).
The Barks & Beans Café series is probably Gilbert’s best-known series and currently includes six books. The first one, No Filter, sets up everything that follows:
“Welcome to the Barks & Beans Cafe, a quaint place where folks pet shelter dogs while enjoying a cup of java...and where murder sometimes pays a visit. Fed up with her go-nowhere job, newly single Macy Hatfield moves back to her small hometown in West Virginia. She joins forces with her brother Bo in his crazy new venture--the Barks & Beans Cafe, which caters to dog lovers and coffee drinkers alike.
When a golf instructor is murdered at the nearby spiritual center, Macy winds up adopting his Great Dane. Just after Macy finds a mysterious message sewn under the dog’s collar, her Dane is dognapped. She launches into a relentless search for her newfound canine friend, but along the way, she digs up a cruel and confident killer. Join siblings Macy and Bo Hatfield as they sniff out crimes in their hometown... with plenty of dogs along for the ride! The Barks & Beans Cafe cozy mystery series features a small town, an amateur sleuth, and no swearing or graphic scenes.”
7. Rachael O. Phillips
Novelist, humorist, and biographer Rachael O. Phillips admits on her website that she started writing later in life than some people. However, it hasn’t slowed her down. Her nonfiction work includes a Frederick Douglass biography, contributions to two books on women of the Bible, and a book on hymn writers (Well with My Soul). Her fiction includes several romance novels (The Indiana Fair series), contributions to the Romancing America series, and A Plain and Sweet Christmas Romance Collection.
On top of that body of work is Phillips’ many forays into cozy mysteries. Her cozy books have included individual books in existing mystery series like the Creative Women Mysteries, Annie’s Quilted Mysteries series, and the Inn at Magnolia Harbor Series. Phillips also has her own cozy mystery series, The Amish Inn Mysteries. The first book, Secrets of the Amish Diary, starts harmless but goes in unexpected directions:
“When former Boston lawyer Liz Eckardt buys an Indiana bed-and-breakfast, she yearns to find Amish relatives mentioned in her late mother’s diary. The other mystery that puzzles her: how Beans, the lazy bulldog she unknowingly purchased with her inn, survives with so much time between breaths. Then one of her first guests is found dead in the lake behind her B&B, and the prime suspect is the son of Liz’s new Amish friend, Miriam. With the help of the Material Girls, Liz’s quilting buddies, Liz tracks the truth in an entertaining, hair-raising adventure — the first of many.”
8. Barbara Cornthwaite
According to her website, Barbara Cornthwaite was a college English professor before moving to Ireland and becoming a full-time writer. In that capacity, she has become a noted contributor to both the historical romance field and the cozy mystery field. Her romance novels include the standalone novel A Fine Young Lady and contributions with other authors to three volumes of the Austen Anthologies. She also writes George Knightley, Esquire, her two-books series that tells the story of Jane Austen’s Emma from the male romantic lead’s perspective.
Cornthwaite’s Wilkester Mysteries are murder mysteries set in the modern-day town of Wilkester in Washington state. Wilkester may have modern conventions, but it is a historic town with an old (perhaps best forgotten?) history and more than a dash of romance. The first book in this series, Brought to Book, starts with maybe the book lover’s worst nightmare: a bookstore owner has been killed.
“There’s nothing in Emily Post about dealing with murder. Katrina just wanted to spend time among the books at Frank’s Bookstore. Yes, that’s an unimaginative name for a store, but Frank’s an unimaginative guy--or he was. Now he and his murder are the reason Katrina is spending her spare time with Wilkester detective Todd Mason. Or, that’s what she tells herself. Why would anyone want to kill Frank Delaney? Who would do it? And is Katrina herself even safe? Mixing faith, literary humor, sweet romance, and a cozy mystery that will keep you guessing, Barbara Cornthwaite’s first Wilkester Mystery has everything you want for a cozy read.”
9. Laura Bradford
Laura Bradford may be one of the most prolific authors currently working in the cozy mystery scene. As of this writing, she has six mystery series out: A Friend for Hire Mysteries, Amish Mysteries, Emergency Dessert Squad Mysteries, Tobi Tobias, Jenkins and Burns Mysteries, and Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries. Then there are her various standalone women’s fiction novels (such as Her New Story and Piece by Piece).
The Amish Mystery series may be her most famous series, and it starts with Hearse and a Buggy:
“Claire Weatherly has fled a high-stress lifestyle for a slower pace—in Amish country: Heavenly, Pennsylvania. She only planned a short visit but instead found herself opening an Amish specialty shop, Heavenly Treasures, and settling in. Claire loves her new home, and she’s slowly making friends among the locals, including Esther, a young Amish woman who works in the shop. So when the store’s former owner, the unlikable Walter Snow, is murdered, and the man Esther is sweet on becomes a suspect, Claire can’t help but get involved. Newly returned Detective Jakob Fisher, who left Heavenly—and his Amish upbringing—as a teenager, is on the case. But his investigation is stalled by the fact that none of his former community will speak with him. Claire’s connections make her the perfect go-between. As Claire investigates, she uncovers more than she wanted to know about her neighbors. And suddenly, everything she had hoped to find in this peaceful refuge is at risk...”
10. The Chrysostom Society
This last entry is unique because it focuses on several authors who worked on a single book. Carnage at Christhaven is a “round-robin,” a novel where a different writer wrote each chapter. Dorothy Sayers, Ronald Knox, and G.K. Chesterton all contributed to The Floating Admiral, a round-robin novel with other members of the Detection Club.
This round-robin was written by the Chrysostom Society, a Christian writers’ community founded in 1986. Its members have included some of the best-known Christian authors of the last 50 years, including Eugene Peterson, Madeleine L’Engle, and Walter Wangerin, Jr.
Carnage at Christhaven features characters (possibly based on Chrysostom Society members) involved in a shocking situation:
“Twelve unsuspecting religious authors have gathered for a writer’s retreat and good fellowship at Christhaven, a secluded lodge nestled in the snow-covered Rocky Mountains. But when one of the twelve, the famous author Nathaniel Yates turns up dead on the serving cart—with a parsley sprig in his lapel—their conference turns into a madcap murder mystery! Blizzard conditions, an untimely power failure, and a string of ruthless murders fuel the suspense. When two strangers appear on the scene, the confusion intensifies. An old-timer on a mule calls himself a shepherd, while the uninvited author, Emma Syss, passes in and out the various doors of Christhaven as a phantom in a fur coat. The absurd schemes the writers dream up to avoid becoming the next victim of murder add hilarity to the intrigue. Why were the writers brought together? Who is behind the cold-blooded murders? Could the motive be revenge for the sacrilege of earning huge royalties for writing religious books? As the plot unravels and the authors-turned-sleuths attempt to solve the mystery, the possible motives multiply. And so does the satiric wit!”
Where to Find More Christian Mystery Authors
If you’ve read these authors and want more of the same, the good news is you won’t have to look far.
Start by contacting your local church library to see what they recommend. Changes are the library belongs to a larger organization like the Evangelical Church Library Association, where members recommend each other books. They may even have a website where they review new Christian mystery books.
Next, look at Christian writers’ organizations like American Christian Writers which often post events or new books. There are also social media groups like Christian Mystery Suspense which specialize in clean mystery novels published by Christian authors or publishers.
Third, look for whatever publisher released a Christian mystery book you liked, and see what other authors write for them. Publishers like Zondervan release a wide variety of Christian books, from historical romance to suspense thrillers. Frequently their cozy mystery books will have similar covers to their historical romance books, while their suspense thrillers will look more contemporary.
If all else fails, check out what did well at the Christy Awards. This organization is the premier publisher for Christian fiction, and they give out awards annually to different authors. Usually, the Christy Awards give out a prize for Best Mystery or Best Suspense. Christian Suspense will be edgier and lean more towards crime fiction (think of Lynette Eason or Steven James’ work). However, if the book is labeled mystery, you’re probably in good hands. You can also watch for whatever wins Best Historical or Best First Book. Those categories may give a prize to a new historical fiction mystery or a new detective story.