The The Path of the Crooked is the first in the Hope Street Church Mystery series by Ellery Adams, penned under the name of Jennifer Stanley. In this book, Cooper Lee gets invited to church by the head of the fraud detecting department of an insurance agency who has lost her wedding ring in the photocopy machine. It is the woman’s 30th wedding anniversary, and she and needs Cooper, a copier repairwoman, to retrieve it for her, as she happily burbles about the couple’s plans for the weekend and then about the joy she gets from her church, to which she invites Cooper to visit as her friend. Lonely after the very painful break-up of a five-year-long relationship, Cooper decides to give this church a try. On her visit, she wanders into a Bible study class while looking for the church service itself. As she is meeting the members of the group, the last member arrives late to announce that the woman who had invited Cooper to church had been murdered the previous night and her husband arrested for the crime.
Amid the dismay over the loss, the Bible study group refuses to accept the possibility that the husband could have committed this murder, but since the police are satisfied with their arrest, the group decides to do their part to free the husband. Cooper soon recalls that the investigator said that the paper leading to the jam that led to the loss of her wedding ring was crucial piece of evidence in a fraud, and the jammed paper was left in shredded pieces at the bottom of Cooper’s toolbox, leading her on an adventure to solve this mystery.
Usually I stay away from so-called “Christian fiction,” as the Christian elements often seem contrived, with the author trying to manipulate the plot in order to squeeze in its Christian side. The Path of the Crooked, however, does a much better job than most at fitting a Christian side to a mystery book. The Bible study members come across as real people, not the saints I associate with Christian fiction, and their actions to detect the murderer stem from their Christian love for the family of the murdered woman. Cooper’s family has been urging her to attend church, but not for religious reasons. Her parents and grandmother want her to go to church in order to meet a man to replace the one who broke her heart, while her sister, a social climber, wants her to attend church in order to create a good image. But Cooper discovers that the worshippers have a degree of genuineness she has not encountered in a church before.
The mystery elements of this book are not as strong as later books by Ellery Adams, notably the Books by the Bay series that I reviewed earlier on this site, but there are some decent twists. The relationships among the Bible study members are enjoyable, though I did find the way Cooper keeps getting thrown in with Nathan, who clearly is interested in her, to be a little annoying.
Cris Dukeheart reads the book in the Audible version and does a good job.
While I was not over-awed by this book, The Path of the Crooked sets the groundwork for a new series very well. There are hints of the great writing to be seen in later books by Adams, and even though I give this book only three stars, I enjoyed it enough that I purchased the second book in the Hope Street Church Mystery series. So stay tuned for my upcoming review of The Way of the Wicked after I listen to it!
The Path of the Crooked by Ellery Adams is available now in multiple formats. To order from Amazon, click the link in the title. You may also find it in your local bookstore or library.