I'm aware of three writers (as of today, all deceased) who have mastered this genre:
- G.K. Chesterton, whose Father Brown was a British Catholic priest in the early 20th century,
- Harry Kemelman, whose Rabbi David Small served a congregation in rural Massachusetts in the late 20th century, and
- Andrew M. Greeley, whose Bishop John Blackwood ("Blackie") Ryan was a Catholic Auxiliary Bishop in Chicago in the late 20th-early 21st centuries.
Their mysteries are all of the traditionally British-style "drawing room" type of mystery in which a (frequently eccentric) amateur sleuth solves a mystery which baffles the professional police using sheer intelligence and logic , rather than the traditional American-style "mean streets" mystery, featuring a hard-boiled private investigator, usually with a self-destructive lifestyle (even though both Kemelman and Greeley were Americans).
Their clerical sleuths are all clergy who work with lay people in the real world. None are "ivory tower" academics.
Each of the three clergy have a fairly nondescript and unimpressive appearance. They are the sort who blend into the background, and who are frequently underestimated by those who don't know them.
Each uses the logic of their profession and their tradition to seek the truth about the mystery in front of them (as each also uses the logic of their profession and their tradition to seek the truth about deeper Mysteries). For Fr. Brown, it's the Thomist tradition. For Rabbi Small, the logic is Talmudic. For Blackie Ryan, the logic derives from the wisdom of the gospels, the 2nd Vatican Council, the Irish-American experience, and the dynamic and diverse cultural experience that one finds in the city of Chicago.
Each author uses his clerical sleuth to teach the public - including those who would rarely enter the doors of a church or synagogue - significant truths about the realities of their faith traditions. Given the high levels of prejudice traditionally faced (and, sadly, still faced) both by Jews and by Catholics, they have a significant role in combatting sectarian prejudice.
- As a Christian, much of my understanding and appreciation of Judaism was obtained through Harry Kemelman and Rabbi David Small.
- As a "Protestant", increasingly much of my appreciation of Catholicism in the English-speaking world is courtesy of Andrew M. Greeley and Bishop "Blackie" Ryan.
Nevertheless, the world is poorer without Fr. Greeley and his sensitive portrayal of the world of faith. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.