God and Monsters -- PW Interviews Author Michael Lister

Lister’s series sleuth, clergyman John Jordan, reexamines the Atlanta Child Murders in Innocent Blood: A John Jordan Mystery.

What inspired you to make a clergyman a detective?

I wanted to write clerical detective mysteries from the moment I first happened upon Father Brown in a dusty old bookstore in Atlanta—the year I graduated from seminary school and was ordained. But as inspiring and influential as I found Father Brown, I was far more influenced by hard-boiled writers. I aimed to introduce a strong, tough, troubled clerical detective into the world of the hard-boiled detective novel. I had already conceived the idea for a prison chaplain clerical detective and had been making notes and sketching out scenes when I was offered a job as a prison chaplain with the Florida Department of Corrections. Part of the reason I took the job was to fully immerse myself in an environment and culture I really didn’t want to enter any other way.

How does John differ from other ecclesiastical detectives?

In addition to marrying the clerical and hard-boiled detective novels, I also wanted to create an almost nonreligious religious sleuth. Part of the tension and conflict of my own experience as a spiritual person has always been my lack of interest in formal or organized religion. By giving this same eccentricity to John, I was able to create a paradox––a conflicted chaplain, a religious leader uncomfortable with religion.

What about the Atlanta Child Murders fascinates you?

I was a child when the Atlanta Child Murders were happening. My friends resembled the victims. I think too many people, particularly Southerners, have forgotten. I never can. It will be nice if Innocent Blood reminds those who were alive at the time and introduces it to those who weren’t. The case is not solved and should not be filed away and forgotten. As I wrote in Innocent Blood, one of the greatest ironies in criminal history is that Wayne Williams, the “Atlanta Child Murderer” wasn’t arrested, charged with, or tried for killing a single child.

How much of John is you?

A lot. More as the series goes on––something I’ve heard other writers say about series characters. John and I have always had many similarities, but they have certainly increased over the past 20 years I’ve been writing about him. What John and I share more than anything is a similar worldview and sensibility. We both believe that the practice of compassion is the highest humanity is capable of, which is to say we believe in practicing love and justice––love as an action, not a feeling, not a sentiment. Love as an act of extending ourselves on the behalf of others and justice as the insistence on equality.

Posted on June 18, 2015 .