The Baritone Wore Chiffon - Mark Schweizer This Liturgical Mystery series keeps getting better. They are LOL funny. Hayden, the local police chief detective and church organist and choirmaster (he keeps a loaded .45 under the bench) again has to deal with a new parish priest sent down by the bishop. This one is equally as foolish as the previous priest. Rev Barna wants to makes us all feel better by encouraging the clown in us. His first service, predictably is a disaster leaving the kids terrified (clown phobia being rampant,) snakes loose in the church (hognose, they only look like rattlesnakes) and Hayden writing another hymn in honor of the priest’s clownish ideas the words to which are:

We honk our rubber nose and find A circus all for thee. The greasepaint we would wear; The costume so complete; The flower squirting water fair Upon our giant feet. Crown Him your Inner clown The Clown above the sky And worship Him as you do best Throwing a custard pie. We drive our little cars, And tell our jokes with flair, Then hit ourselves with two-by-fours To show thy mercy there. Crown Him you many clowns, And worship Him above For in this circus we call life He is the Clown of Love. The ringmaster will crack His whip to end the play; Then punch your final ticket for That clowny judgment day. The choir is in stitches.

When the rector calls those few kids not afraid of clowns to come up front for a children’s Bible story about Gideon and the Golden Fleece he fails to anticipate the fun kids can have: They were tag-teaming now. A well-oiled, unrehearsed juggernaught. Father Barna was beginning to squirm. "Of course you’d do it. But Gideon was afraid and didn’t want to attack." Moosey: "He was probably just all itchy." "Itchy?" said Father Barna. "Why?" "Because of his fleas." Father Barna did his best to ignore the comment, obviously confused, much to the congregation's delight. This was, as they say in show biz, what they had paid to see. "Well, I suppose," said the priest trying to get back on track. "Anyway, Gideon told God that he would put his fleece on the ground and if it was wet in the morning when the ground was dry, he would know God would help him win." Moosey: "So he put his fleas on the ground?" "Yes." "And were they wet?" "Yes," said Father Barna. "And then did he take them back?" Moosey was pushing him for answers. "Well, I suppose he did."

I like the many references to classical music. Hayden is always mentioning some obscure -- or not so obscure -- piece he’s listening to in his truck or for Lent. I was listening to the St. Luke Passion of Penderecki. It's not an easy piece to listen to, but if you can get through all ninety minutes, you'll be more than ready for Lent. In fact, Lent will be a piece of cake. It's the musical equivalent of having your wisdom teeth pulled without Novocain. The fact that I was giving up beer for forty days also had a bearing on my selection. I wanted Meg to suffer as much as I. She was giving up needlepoint. I pointed out that this was hardly a challenge.

A continuing schtick is Raymond Chandler. Hayden bought Chandler’s old typewriter and plays on some of the more overwrought similes in Chandler’s mysteries. The story within the story is one hyperbolic simile after another. In one funny scene, Hayden goes to a children’s writing class where they dissect what constitutes bad writing and they throw similes at Hayden who guesses immediately which Chandler title they come from. Then they proceed to rip his own writing asunder. Mrs. Nelson nodded approvingly and continued. "We've been assembling our favorite Chandlerism's. Would you like to hear some?" I nodded as hands went up all over the classroom. "Why don't we start here," Mrs. Nelson said, pointing to the front row, "and we'll make a game of it. The Chief will have to guess where the quote came from." I nodded confidently. Chandler was my business. A boy at the head of one of the aisles stood up and began the test. "It was a blonde, a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window." (No spoilers, here.)

Hayden is also writing humorous hymns based on the Bible, e.g., the Weasel Cantata. The choir members had The Weasel Cantata 2 stashed in the back of their folders along with several other repugnant pieces I had written over the years including a motet entitled Like As The Dog Returns From His Vomit (on Proverbs 26:11). The Weasel Cantata, however, had the distinction of being the only piece ever written on the dietary laws of Leviticus and takes advantage of the fact that the word "weasel" is only mentioned in the Bible one time. Leviticus 11:29 – "And these are unclean to you among the swarming things that swarm upon the earth: the weasel, the mouse, the great lizard according to its kind." The verses flow over a Baroque rendering of Pop Goes The Weasel while the choruses are sung to the Thanksgiving hymn We Gather Together. It is an altogether lovely and well-crafted work of surpassing beauty. Or so I've been told.

These books are just too much fun.