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the rector by thompson book coverReviewed by Kelly Ferjutz

It’s interesting that the most well-developed characters in The Rector are the ladies. There are several of them, all Southern, but all are different from each other. They’re mostly of a certain age, but other than that, they’re not much alike. This is rather impressive, given that the author, Michael Hicks Thompson, is male. The cover declares it ‘A Christian Murder Mystery’ which seems rather anachronistic, but in all truth, it could easily be read and enjoyed by anyone–of any sex or religious leanings. I would not recommend it for young adults, however, as there are several rather gory murders that do occur off-stage, but are somewhat vividly described.

The writing itself is smooth, and keeps the reader engaged, as the plot does it’s dipsy-doodle thing, going here, there and yon, before finally settling on the best and only possible ending.

The little town of Solo, Mississippi in late 1954 is as tired and confused as the rest of the country, if perhaps a bit more sheltered. After all, a goodly chunk of the previous 13 years has seen our country at war, and recovery comes slowly to rural areas.

Calvary Episcopal Church of Solo is once again in need of a rector, but there are many small communities that suffer the same lack. While the church has appealed to the diocese, it appears there are more open pulpits than there are rectors available to fill them. The situation has deteriorated as the previous rector – a young man in good health in his early 30s – has just died of a heart attack. Now the town waits again.

Strong-minded, curious and inquisitive, Martha MacRae is the epitome of ‘Southern lady’. She is a widow and in addition to being publisher of the town’s paper, she also operates a small boarding house in Solo Mississippi. She is also an active member of Calvary Episcopal Church.

Perhaps her closest friend is the divorced Oneeda Mae Harpole. She serves as Martha’s good friend and listener. She is not yet ready to give up on finding a man with whom to share the rest of her life. Mary Grater, another friend (a lady with a past, but looking toward the future) is married to Capp Grater, the richest man in Solo, but all is not as wonderful as it may seem. These three women are the heart and soul of the church and the town.

The mostly peaceful life of Solo is totally disrupted when the current rector of Calvary pitches into his dinner plate at the local diner. His death is attributed to a heart attack, but the man is barely in his 30s. This does not sit well with Martha, and she is determined to either prove or disprove the diagnosis. In the meantime, another appeal is made to the diocese. Almost before the letter has time to be opened, the town is blessed with a new rector, Thomas Cain. But all too soon, the equilibrium of the town is upset.

A malignant force seems to be prevalent, and Martha’s curiosity will not allow her to ignore the danger signs that are all around. There are, however, good men in the area, along with some who are rather questionable, such as the Bethel County Sheriff Butch Turnbull, Frank Acuff, the county prosecutor, and finally, Adam Davidson, the third rector of Calvary Episcopal church. The story takes place over half a dozen years, and of course, there are other characters who play smaller parts. The plot, however, keeps heading toward the resolution, without allowing itself to be distracted.

I quite liked this book for any number of reasons. It absolutely held my interest from beginning to end, and the smattering of humor throughout served to break the at-times intense action.

First and foremost, Kelly is a reader, then a writer and editor. She adores Regency-set novels, and cozy mysteries. Every now and then, however, she finds something else to enjoy if it has a great premise with characters who belong in there, and fabulous writing! She writes under her own name, as well as her pen-name, Hetty St. James.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Michael Thompson. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.