Novel approach to religion

Bob Faser’s novel Fresh Expressions of Murder tackles some deeper issues around faith.

By Donald Moss

Murder-mystery author Bob Faser wants to reassure readers of his debut novel that there is no such person as the Bishop of Launceston.

That’s probably just as well, because it’s the fictitious Bishop’s death that opens the Hobart-based retired Uniting Church Minister’s murder-mystery, Fresh Expressions of Murder.

The Bishop is found dead at the bottom of Launceston’s Cataract George, but was it an accident, suicide or murder?

Given the task of finding out is Father Earl Jackson who, with the support of ecumenical colleagues Fran Burke and Tank Van Kampenhuis, has to make sense of an investigation that appears to be going nowhere and, in the process, solve a “fresh expression of murder”.

Much of the action takes place in the fictitious town of Dundee, which Bob says is a representation of the many Tasmanian towns he served during his years in Ministry.

“While I’m based in Hobart, the book is set in the north of the state, largely because the social situation that is described in it is more realistic in the north, where there are a lot of substantial smaller towns,” he says.

“I think that’s important because the team of three people who help the police solve the crime are local clergy from a range of denominations, so it really requires towns that are significant enough to support venues like a number of churches, a local pub and locally-based police.

“They were certainly the sort of towns that I had placements in and, in fact, in the 1980s, I had six years in the town of Westbury, west of Launceston, and the town of Dundee is very similar to that sort of community.”

Bob admits the English murder-mystery genre is one of his favourites and says Fresh Expressions of Murder is a nod to that English-village style of writing.

“Even though I’m from the United States originally, I’m writing from that ‘cosy’ British perspective rather than taking a more hard-boiled American approach,” he says.

“I had been contemplating writing a murder-mystery for ages because they really have been among my guilty pleasures for almost all of my adult life.

“So I had been working on a number of ideas and on this book for the better part of two years.”

With Bob’s background in Ministry and chaplaincy, it’s not surprising that some deeper questions around religion are given space and Bob hopes that as well as enjoying the narrative, readers will take the time to dig deep and ponder those issues around faith in more detail.

“Given the nature of the characters and my own nature, I made sure there were plenty of opportunities for the various characters to have discussions about theological and pastoral issues,” Bob says.

“Even local politics and wider politics are part of the novel.”

Bob says the literary device of having the three main characters work together, despite being from different ecumenical backgrounds, was a deliberate one that reflected his own experiences as a Minister.

“It’s about (the characters) sharing their experiences and providing mutual support and I was certainly part of clergy groups like that in various communities whose support I found invaluable,” he says.

“But in terms of a deeper message in the book, I guess it’s around the fact that in any kind of mystery there is always merit in the rigorous search for truth, even when the truth winds up being uncomfortable.

“In some ways, some of the religious figures encountered in the book who become suspects are flawed individuals, some more flawed than others.

“Looking at that, the reality is that many people of faith are flawed individuals.

“I think it’s important to be honest about our flaws, to be involved in the search for truth even when it’s uncomfortable, and that is something that is still relevant today.”

Bob says he found the writing process relatively easy once he had established an idea of the characters and a general plot line and is already hard at work on a sequel.

Fresh Expressions of Murder, RRP $34, is available online at Dymocks. Tasmanian residents can get a copy at the Australia Post shop in Claremont Plaza, Hobart, and The Jesse Tree op shop in South Hobart.

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