Right Church, Wrong Pew

by Walter Stewart

MacMillan of Canada

213 pages

Right Church, Wrong Pew is the first fictional novel that Walter Stewart has written. His previous works have all been non-fiction books focusing on economic, political and historical subjects. Although Stewart shows brief signs of a sense of humour throughout this novel, his non-fictional instincts have prevented him from fully developing what could have been an imaginative and witty murder mystery.

The story revolves around Carlton Withers, a small time journalist in the small town of Silver Falls, situated somewhere up in Ontario cottage country. One day, while leading his small town life, big city crime crashed in on his world in the form of a dead body on his front door step. Soon after, Hanson Eberly, a former Toronto police detective, and Hanna Klovack, a former Toronto Star photographer, enter Withers’ small town life to help him solve the crime for which he as been unjustly accused.

Eventually, the familiar theme of two worlds meeting emerges. Big city and small city folk meet and realize they aren’t that different.

Although this theme may not be so original, id does leave room for an original storyline to develop. Unfortunately, all Stewart does is shrink a big city murder mystery to fit it into a small town setting. All the elements of a typical big city crime are present: the average single Joe Blow who is victimized by higher powers, the reluctant but promiscuous liberated damsel in distress, the odd couple detectives (i.e. the old ham and the rookie) who unknowingly work against the true victims, and the beat up car that Joe Blow scoots around in to solve the crime. I would even go so far as to say that these staples of this murder mystery genre can be used in varying amounts to come up with a witty and original story every time — or else they can be used in the same amounts each time and end up with the same bland predictable plot.

It is all to obvious that after years of writing non-fiction books, Stewart has developed non-fiction conservative writing habits preventing him from adding a little more or less of any of the basic murder mystery elements in this novel. The result is an unoriginal plot comprised of characters and subplots with as much development as a table of statistics.

By the end of this book, I had a few good laughs, but even the jokes and one liners started sounding pretty conservative after a while. However, despite his flashes of a sense of humour, Stewart displays only a few instances of creativity and originality, just enough to call this book a transitional work with the promise of better things to come.