Posted on March 8, 2011 - by

Preaching to the Corpse

Berkley Prime Crime
(December 2007)
ISBN: 978-0425218372

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The holidays have arrived in postcard-perfect Guilford, CT, but someone’s taking the joy out of the season…

Psychologist/advice columnist Dr. Rebecca Butterman gets a call in the middle of night from the minister at her church. He’s in custody after going to a fellow parishioner’s home and finding her dead. The murdered matron was the leader of a search committee charged with finding a new assistant pastor after the previous assistant left in a rush. The minister begs Rebecca to intervene. She learns that the committee was divided–has someone tried to eliminate the competition? Rebecca puts her analytical skills to work to do her own search–for a killer–all while resisting the urge to break the seventh commandment with a very married detective, and praying she’s not the next victim.

Discussion questions for Preaching to the Corpse:

  1. People are drawn to religion for many reasons. What do you understand about why Rebecca attends church?
  2. What does Rebecca conclude about the balancing act between being an ordinary human being and serving as a minister–or a therapist?
  3. Rebecca struggles with her own issues (post-traumatic divorce disorder, she calls it) while helping her therapy patients and dishing out advice. How do you feel about hearing her concerns? How is she different or like other therapists you’ve seen in movies and books or on TV?
  4. How do you feel about the men in Rebecca’s life? Mark (her ex)? Detective Meigs? Bob? Do any of them seem right for her?
  5. How important do you think it is for Rebecca to make contact with her father? What might be the best outcome she could expect?
  6. How is Rebecca’s role as advice columnist different from that of therapist? What is the function the column serves for her? How does she feel about Dr. Aster? How about you?
  7. If your background and beliefs are different from Rebecca’s, did that affect your enjoyment of the book? How?

Dr. Rebecca Butterman, the quirky, flawed, eccentric, funny psychologist and advice columnist in “Preaching to the Corpse,” is my kind of protagonist.
— Read more from Rebecca Rule at the Nashua Telegraph

Roberta Isleib has written another delightful cozy mystery novel; Rebecca is so human and so likeable with all her flaws and attempts to do the best she can. I find it quite refreshing that Rebecca is aware that writing a solution to a problem in her advice column is far easier than dealing with that same problem in real life. People just aren’t as amenable in person as they are on paper. Isleib is also very good at playing fair with the reader; the clues are there if one is astute and pays attention. PREACHING TO THE CORPSE is a cozy reader’s delight.
— PJ Coldren, Reviewing the Evidence

Isleib hits her stride with Dr. Butterman in this book as she fleshes out Rebecca¹s personal life. Recently divorced, infatuated with a married man, and combating her own personal demons from her childhood, Rebecca is herself a good candidate for both her advice column and her psychology practice as she tries to maintain some balance in her life and chart a new course for herself. While this might sound like a good formula for a deeply psychological book, Isleib keeps the style and plot firmly in cozy territory while giving the reader a very human and modern sleuth.
— Reviewed by Liz

“Church politics have never seemed so deadly. Pressed by her editor for a seasonal slant to her advice colums, Rebecca works out some of her own problems as she answers her readers’ letters. This would make a good choice for a book club!”
— Mary Helen Becker, Mystery News

Roberta Isleib has written a fully satisfying mystery. It contains the right amount of suspense and wit to keep the reader intrigued and glued to the pages. Rebecca Butterman is a lovable heroine who is interested in Detective Meigs, a married man. Her friends and family are amusing, and there is another possible love interest thrown in the mix. Add to that the church members and the possible ministerial candidates, and that makes the perfect recipe for murder. PREACHING TO THE CORPSE is a fun and exciting mystery that will take you for a ride.
— Melissa Kammer, Fresh Fiction

From her quirky and lovable characters to the potion of deception she so masterfully conjures up, it’s no doubt that her readers will be anxiously awaiting for her characters to return in her next installment.
— Jennifer Vido, Fresh Fiction

This book has everything I love about traditional mysteries. Good, tight writing. A strong but far-from-perfect heroine. More secrets than sprinkles on Christmas cookies. A plot that flows smoothly from “What can all this possibly mean?” to “I think I know who did it” to “No, don’t go there, all alone, without telling someone, this close to the end of the book!
— Sharon Wildwind, Story Circle Book Reviews

I most appreciate the top-notch writing, meticulous plotting  and a heroine who is perfectly imperfect ­ teetering between her feminist leanings and the desire for a big lug to take care of her.
— Diana Vickery, Cozy Library

The mystery is well laid out and easy to follow, and there are several paths readers can take to figure everything out. Preaching to the Corpse is a fun holiday mystery with a heroine who will easily win new fans and keep old fans well satisfied.
— Jennifer Winberry, Mystery Reader

Isleib has written a fantastic amateur sleuth tale in which it seems everyone except the detective and the heroine¹s sister and niece have something to conceal and thus push personal agendas to guard against revealing their secrets.
— Harriet Klauser, Genregoroundreviews

Isleib has created in Dr. Rebecca Butterman a professional who cares and who is better at her job for her own flaws and failings.
— Armchair Reviews

Isleib is an accomplished and gifted writer… Her protagonist, Butterman is invested with a wide range of emotional baggage and surrounding characters that flesh out her circumstances and make the novel an interesting and enjoyable experience.
— Carl Brookins. Read full review.

 

PREACHING TO THE CORPSE
By Roberta Isleib
ISBN: 978-0-425-21837-2
A Berkley Prime Crime Paperback
238 pages, December 2007
Review by Carl Brookins

This book has a nice cover and the design is good. The interior design is appropriate and the type size and margins make the book comfortable to hold and read. I mention all these details because these elements of books are no longer automatic. The advent of some late-twentieth-century technology had put book production within reach of almost anyone. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

I also mention these details because, according to the cover, this is an advice column mystery. It is not. True, Dr. Rebecca Butterman, an excellent protagonist, by the way, writes an advice column, but this mystery has no connection to her column. I guess it’s our current obsession with labeling, categorizing, and organizing everyone and everything.

Dr. Butterman is a church-going psychologist. This is her second outing from the experienced and sure hand of her creator. Isleib is an accomplished and gifted writer. It shows in this novel. The story takes readers behind the scenes in a small New England church which is seeking a new assistant pastor. Now in some churches such a decision is made elsewhere at a higher level of the church hierarchy. Not here. Church members are sitting as a small search committee to interview and recommend the hiring of a new assistant pastor. They’d like to get it done since the holiday season looms and the previous assistant pastor resigned rather abruptly.

Late one night, Butterman gets a call that the chair of the search committee has suddenly died among suspicions she may have had help meeting her maker. Among the possible suspects is the pastor of Shoreline Congregational Church in Guilford, Connecticut. Pastor Wesley Sandifer is acting strangely and the death of Lucy Bales has thrown things into an uproar. Butterman is pressed into service as a reluctant replacement for the dead woman. As the book progresses, the author judiciously releases information, almost always in an organic and controlled manner that will keep readers on their mystery-solving toes.

Meanwhile, Butterman has personal difficulties inside her family. Her father abandoned the family many years ago but Rebecca wants to reestablish a connection. The coming Christmas season seems an appropriate time to reach out. Her sister, however, has major objections and the occasional flare-ups over the subject imbue several scenes with familiar emotions.

Isleib, a clinical psychologist by training, handles all this with a sure and steady hand. Her protagonist, Butterman is invested with a wide range of emotional baggage and surrounding characters that flesh out her circumstances and make the novel an interesting and enjoyable experience. I recommend the book and look forward to a long acquaintance with Dr. Rebecca Butterman.

Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com

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