You Can Go Home Again

novelist Elizabeth Cunningham returns to the scene of the crime

Descended from nine generations of Episcopal priests, Elizabeth Cunningham comes by her theological obsessions honestly. Her earliest memory, age three, is of her plot to kill God and Jesus. “I planned to stand on a cliff and roll a boulder on them as they floated by below,” says Cunningham. “Clearly I had been influenced by watching Road Runner cartoons, which should have warned me that they would only pop up again.” And they did, in novel after novel, most notably The Maeve Chronicles, a series of award-winning novels featuring a feisty Celtic Magdalen who is no one’s disciple.


Although the themes of her novels reflect her upbringing in the church, until now Cunningham has avoided using direct biographical material. “When I finished writing The Maeve Chronicles—twenty years of research and writing—I thought I would try my hand at memoir. As I wrote about what it was like to grow up in a church yard, I discovered that what I really wanted was to return to Murder at the Rummage Sale, a novel I had set aside thirty years earlier. The rummage sales of my youth were epic events, involving almost everyone in the whole village—the perfect setting for a mystery novel. With the distance of fifty years between me and that era, I finally felt ready to recreate the world of my childhood. I had great fun writing from the point of view of characters inspired by my late parents and a host of eccentric parishioners. I also recaptured the imagination of that little girl who wanted to kill God, who dared to trespass in the enchanted woods next door.”


The result is a vivid portrait of a time and place, combined with humor, suspense—and yes, theological depth and range. Lucy Way, an older unmarried lady, is a quiet mystic, while The Reverend Gerald Bradley is a loud proponent of the Social Gospel that came to prominence in the Civil Rights Era. The minister’s wife, Anne, is a secret atheist. And seven-year-old Katherine, the not-quite-penitent deicide, just wishes God would stop seeing and knowing everything and leave her alone. The entirely fictional murder of the over-bearing, light-fingered, queen of the rummage sale, Charlotte Crowley, frees Cunningham to add the potent component of memory to her highly-developed imagination. As for the memoir, “I’ve forgotten all about it,” says Cunningham. “I’m having too much fun writing the sequel, All the Perils of this Night, which takes the characters eight years forward into the perils of the late 1960s.”


Praise for Murder at the Rummage Sale


"Cunningham deftly weaves in aspects of postwar life, theological stances…and lush descriptions of food and nature." — Publisher's Weekly


"Cunningham has written a paean to the vanished world of [the] 1950s and early 1960s." — Library Journal