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The Tentmaker (Lily Connor Mysteries) Hardcover – Bargain Price, August 30, 1999

3.9 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Lily Connor Series

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, August 30, 1999
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--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Amazon.com Review

To that extremely short list of crime-solving clerics who manage to be convincing as both priests and detectives (such as G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown and Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael) , we can now add Lily Connor. "In the most peaceful of settings, she still gave off an incongruous set of messages in her jeans, hand-tooled cowboy boots, army surplus slicker and clerical collar," writes Michelle Blake of Lily in her impressive debut. "In high school she had been the skinny overgrown geek, the outcast, the reader of poems and 19th Century novels. She still pictured herself that way." Her best friend Charlie, a fellow Episcopalian priest, tries to convince her that being tall and skinny now, at 36, makes her not a geek but a cultural icon. Lily is equally unsure of her role in the church: she had been running a women's center in Boston until her father's terminal illness took her home to Texas for six months. Now she's back in Boston, working as the interim priest--or tentmaker--at a rich church whose rector has just died under circumstances that turn out to be suspicious.

Blake, a poet who has a master's degree from Harvard Divinity School, writes cool and sparkling prose that gives her first mystery an unusual depth. As the church struggles with issues of sexuality, her clerics and parishioners mirror that struggle. Did the late Father Barnes kill himself with an overdose of insulin because of his feelings toward the 16-year-old son of one of the congregation's richest members? That's one possibility; even worse is the chance that Father Barnes was murdered because of someone else's sins. Equally riveting is Lily's growing dilemma: what to do with the potential scandal that she has unearthed. "Back at her desk, she thought of the ways in which her life and vocation had always been so clear to her, the terrain mapped miles into the future--mountains and plains, good guys and bad guys, right and wrong, faith, friendship. Now she groped down a dim corridor, feeling her way inch by inch, barely able to tell where she stood at that instant, much less where anyone else stood, much less where she was headed."

It's this quality of enriched uncertainty that bonds us with Lily, regardless of our own beliefs, and makes this such a promising debut. --Dick Adler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Another clerical snoop takes to amateur sleuthing in this stylish debut from a poet and graduate of Harvard Divinity School who once considered becoming an Episcopal priest. Blake's heroine, Lily Connor, is a "tentmaker"Aan ordained priest who works outside the church. Lily is a spiritual nomad who, as the novel begins, has been assigned to serve as interim priest at Boston's St. Mary of the Garden Episcopal Church after the sudden death of the church's long-time spiritual head, Father Fred Barnes. Lily's faith and authority are challenged immediately: the parishioners seem disinterested in her attempts to help them adjust to Barnes's death; the vestry members are downright hostile to her. When the sexton almost dies in a suspicious fall, Lily begins to suspect Barnes was murdered and assembles an odd trio of investigators: her best friend, Charlie Cooper, a Brother in the Anglican Order of St. Peter; Mrs. Hanlon, the loyal rectory cleaning woman who revered Father Barnes; and cop Tom Casey, whose mother is a friend of Mrs. Hanlon. After discovering that Barnes had damaging information about a parishioner and hoped to use it as a lever for change within the church, Lily's attention is drawn to wealthy Dan Talbot, the vestry's conservative leader, whose 16-year-old son has disappeared. Although the novel frequently sags under the weight of its intricate plot, Blake's writing is graceful, often elegiac, and her characters hum with humanity. In addition, her examination of the divisive issues facing an influential religious organization in a fast-changing society gives a rich background to an entertaining mystery. (Sept.) FYI: Blake is married to novelist Dennis McFarland.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 273 pages
  • ISBN-10: 039914577X
  • ASIN: B000IOEQW6
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,013,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

When my daughter graduated from college, our family gift to her was a trip to the Sawtooth Mountains and the River of No Return, in central Idaho. She had seen a series of photographs of the region and its people, taken by the photographer Susan McPhee , and had been so moved by the landscape and faces that she vowed to get there someday. From my point of view, this was an excellent gift, because I got to go with her. The picture above was taken outside the town of Stanley, after a week at the Diamond D ranch, a hidden gem of a guest ranch inside the Frank Church Wilderness Area, the largest wilderness area in the lower forty-eight. I look sad because we were leaving the next day, and I knew I would miss the beauty and the people.
Art isn't required to serve some useful function, but despite itself, it often does. A photography show drew my daughter and me to Idaho for one of the great adventures of our lives. Dorothy Sayers's novel Gaudy Night introduced me to the possibility of a life of the mind, for women, where books and thinking and truth held sway over the polite lies and pincurls of my southern upbringing.
I've been a writer for all of my adult life, and most of my childhood. I wrote poetry for the first fifteen or twenty years (depending on when you start counting). During most of that period I taught writing and literature, and founded and directed a graduate writing program at Warren Wilson College. Later, I attended Harvard Divinity School, where I got my Master of Theological Studies and for a short while considered seeking ordination in the Episcopal Church. Instead, I started a mystery series that features Lily Connor, a priest and activist in Boston.
This was the right choice. I would not have been a good priest. I am an impatient perfectionist who prefers to be left alone with a good book or a blank page, or both. I have just finished a new novel that is not part of the mystery series, though it does include an art heist and a psychic. I live with my husband, the writer Dennis McFarland, in rural Vermont, and our two grown children, when we can lure them home.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Lilly Conner is a refreshing character to see inhabiting not only a mystery but also a priest's collar -- passionate, occasionally insecure, as opinionated as she is committed, but always searching for a closer relationship with the God who fuels her commitment. And Charlie! His character alone was worth the price of the book. Lilly and Charlie's conversations and sluething bring to light some very real controversies facing the church today. As a Boston/Cambridge resident, I also appreciated Blake's careful attention to physical details -- a small but important part of bringing authencity and life to the story.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
From the standpoint of an "insider," this was a fine book. I have known many "tentmaker" priests and deacons and have been an Episcopalian for 30 years. The mystery is exciting, but equally as good is the internal politics of the parish and diocese, and the wrestlings with faith of all the characters.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is a perfect book for those of you who think Priests and "churched" persons are superhuman! Blake not only presents a well-developed mystery with a surprising ending she also manages to shatter the image of the stereotypical rector with her character "tentmaker" Lily Connor! Pick up this book you won't be sorry!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In addition to being a "good read," The Tentmaker uses the mystery genre to explore more than just the suspicious death of a rector who serves an affluent Boston congregation. It also inquires about the religious mysteries clerics face in the modern world, the mysteries each of us face as we come to terms with our relationships to religion, ourselves ,and the evils that looom behind the exquisitely carved doors. I look forward to other Michelle Blake mysteries.
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Format: Hardcover
I found the book very interesting, and a fairly good mystery, but some of the clues weren't all that clear. However, I was a little surprised by the parish where our heroine was working. As an espiscopalian, who has served on a vestry, I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more about the "life" of the church: study groups, services, choir practices, more personalities of the parish family. From the desciption of the parish, its not surprising that things were so secretive. In most churches, there is a lot of give and take, people working within the local community, hearing confessions, planning services, planning events, confirmation classes, adult classes, etc. Everything just seemed so dark. Also, having the bishop and the cathedral so close is the exception, and not the rule for most parishes. However, I will look forward to seeing more books featuring our new heroine.
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Format: Hardcover
Too often mysteries are all about puzzle at the expense of character or writing. The Tentmaker is differant, more than a great modern mystery it is also a profound meditation on human frailty , compassion and grace. The writing is superb, the story is haunting.
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Format: Hardcover
I have read many mysteries, but this one stands out from them all. It was a smart and engaging story line, and quite cleverly pieced together. The characters were realistic and I could thoroughly relate to aspects of all of them. As far as "furthering a theology that is pro-liberal and pro-homosexual," it should be commended that Blake dare address such important political prejudices, as those ones that plague our world today. And not only, but Blake is an exquisite writer; her pros are poetic, yet controlled, coherent and pleasing to the ears. I can't wait for the next book.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This rings true of what I know of Episcopal clergy and of the diocese in which Lily Connor works. It follows those circumstantially simple lines in its detail, and I found it a good read.
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