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Monday, July 27, 2009

RevGals Book Pals: The Alto Wore Tweed

The Alto Wore Tweed by Mark Schweizer is the first in the comedic Liturgical Mysteries series. I came across these books last year and have now read every one of them, including the latest, The Diva Wore Diamonds.

Hayden Konig, chief detective of St. Germaine, in the North Carolina mountains and part-time organist/choirmaster of St. Barnabus Episcopal Church, is the protagonist. The author is also a choir director so much of the satire and humor in the books is best appreciated by readers who have spent time in church choirs of any denomination. Schweizer makes many references to his favorite classical sacred music recordings in the books, and I confess that this has sent me over to ITunes or on several occasions to buy them for myself.

Schweizer is evidently a big Raymond Chandler fan and so each mystery has a “novel within a novel” as his hero Hayden Konig dreams of writing the next big gumshoe story and his efforts are intertwined with the main mystery story line.

Another unique feature of The Alto Wore Tweed, and the other books, are the musical parodies that are part of the plot. Readers can actually download the musical scores and listen to performances of these parodies such as The Moldy Cheese Madrigal from TAWT on the publisher’s website.

I contacted Mark Schweizer and he has agreed to join in our discussion today, so please feel free to direct comments or questions to him.

And now here are a few questions to get the conversation started:
  • What did you think of Schweizer’s Chandler-style mystery parody? Did it enhance or detract from your enjoyment of TAWT?
  • TAWT includes several musical parodies: The Moldy Cheese Madrigal, The Christmas Penguin and The Three Queens. If you enjoyed them, which one was your favorite? If you didn’t like them, why not?
  • TAWT also satirizes the Left Behind series, the Re-Imagining Conference (we Presbyterians sure remember THAT kerfuffle), and competitive community Christmas displays. What did you think of those satires? (Note to those RevGals who may be sensitive to Schweizer’s characterization of the woman priest in this first book: the rest of the series features the Right Rev. Gaylen Weatherall, priest and later bishop, as a beloved recurring character.)
  • Before I forget, there was a murder mystery in the book, too! How would you rate it?
  • Why are the North Carolina mountains a popular setting for books featuring religious characters, e.g. Jan Karon?
  • Did you enjoy TAWT enough to recommend it to someone else or to read other books in the series? If so, why? If not, why not?


  1. Thanks for hosting, and for joining us, Mark.

    I'm very glad for the note about the caricature of the female character...I was bothered by that. Is Gaylen (the next character mentioned) also female? (I know a man named that).

    I've not been a big Raymond Chandler reader, so while I understand the genre and the allusions, the "novel within the novel" was more of a distraction for me. I just skipped over it, for the most part.

    I did enjoy the music downloads, and I loved getting all those suggestions for classical IPod is smoking as I include many of them to my playlist!

    And as a longtime choir member...I enjoyed the characterizations of choir members and the practical invincibility, due to financial circumstances, of the organist/detective. What would my choirmaster give to be able to say "go hang" to a bishop who called and gave him marching orders!

    I think the NC mountain settings bring us into contact with characters whose lifestyles are very different from the reading public's at large, and there's a great deal of interest in seeing how someone from "away" interacts there.

    I will be following the rest of series and look forward to it! Also can't wait to pass it on to my choirmaster. He will adore it.

    and p.s.: If there are future editions, please note that Megan's new dog is probably a "Bernese" and not a "Burmese" Mountain Dog. I just happen to know some of these...

  2. Sorry I didn't make that clear! Gaylen is indeed a female character.

  3. I have read the first two of this series, and intend to get to more of these this summer. Having just read many of the books in the "Mitford" series, I am enjoying the way the Carolina mountain setting is the same...but wackier.

    The murders seems a little contrived, but I think the books are a caricature of the genre, am I right? Like Mary Beth, I found the novel-within-a novel a distraction, but I think Chandler fans would like it. Perhaps the point is that he never quite finishes his opus?

    I am hoping, as I read further, that the clergy depicted are more competent and pastoral.

    Overall, I find them fun and light-hearted, and a good addition to a bookshelf that may be crammed with overly-serious theological tomes!

  4. I admit that the female priest gets roasted pretty well in TAWT. But, male priests fare no better in the next two books. I finally decided that I needed a good priest to balance out the St. Germaine universe for a time.

    Rev. Gaylen Weatherall is mentioned first in Book 4 as a possible priest for St. Barnabas, but actually takes the reigns in book 5. Then she becomes Bishop in book 6 and will return as rector in the next one. She's a good character (and a good priest!) The rest of the priests (interim and not), have been pretty bad. But that's part of the fun I think.

    Being financially secure gives Hayden a lot of leeway in what he will and wont put up with. I think of him as a traditionalist with a real love of liturgy and music - but he's not above putting on a production of "The Living Gobbler" just for the fun of it.

    Some folks really like the "story in a story", and I'm afraid I'm stuck with it. It's the hardest part to write really.

    I first put in the Burmese Mountain dog as a dig at my sister, who always claimed to have one. Of course, it's Bernese - but its just one of those things that isn't getting changed. I put up a description of the "Burmese" version on the website a few years back.

  5. Well, that is just hilarious.

    Your friend,
    and her slightly skunky smelling companion, SAM

  6. I was introduced to Mark's books by our organist. I've loved 'em all, and have recommended them to others who are easy about laughing at themselves (seems like some church folks aren't...hmmm...)and who still love the church and church music. Thanks, Mark, for such fun reading!

  7. So, Mark,what's next for Hayden Konig? How many more vocal parts are there? Counter-tenors? Boy Sopranos? Castrati (eew)? I'd hate for you to run out of choir parts and end the series.

  8. I have a few ideas left - The organist Wore... The Countertenor Wore...The Director Wore... And then I start on the clergy! Some folks are pushing for Castrati, but I don't know.
    I guess I can keep writing them as long as people keep reading them.
    BTW - The Diva Wore Diamonds - Number 1 bestselling paperback for June! Independent Mystery Booksellers.

  9. As long as Jim Bakker's on TV - I can keep going. Did you know he's now hawking a "Revelation Survival Kit"? Water purifiers, food packages, foil blankets, etc.

  10. And then there's my local fave--Lakewood Church and its co-pastors Joel and Victoria Osteen! Book deals, lawsuits with flight attendants, big hair, what else could you want?

    How about sending Hayden down to Houston?? The Counter Tenor Wore Cowboy Boots!

    We've got some other stuff down here too that would be grist for your mill such as the towering crosses that Grace Community Church is trying to erect on both sides of town--big enough to concern the FAA.

    And then there's Jose Luis Miranda who claims to be both Jesus AND the AntiChrist and is hiding out in Houston from legal proceedings in Miami....

  11. I love the idea of Hayden in Houston with caricatures of the Osteens!! I liked the novel within a novel - kind of like peeking at the TV while reading - a fun distraction...

  12. MB - I loaned Peter my copy & also gave him a copy of the Pirate Eucharist - much hilarity ensued!!

  13. one more thing - the liturgics professor at SMU - Perkins actually referenced the Pirate piece which is why I had a copy - and I know it's not from TAWT

  14. The Pirate Eucharist is from The Soprano Wore Falsettos. I was doing a send up of the popular Clown Eucharist, but I think it's been done more than a few times.

  15. Good to know I'm being quoted from the pulpit though.

  16. You can always start in on the acolytes: crucifer, thurifer, server, boat bearer...

  17. What a fun discussion! Thanks everyone and a special thanks to author Mark Schweizer for joining us today.

    Please feel free to carry on!

  18. Ooh, put vergers on your list! My dad had never seen (noticed?) a verger in action until visiting my church this Sunday. He said, "That verger is a busy little bee, isn't she?"

    Yes, she is.

  19. I'll keep the vergers in mind. I had one in the second book, but he wasn't a really fun one. I love it when they point at you with their wand.

  20. Wands? Vergers get to have wands?
    What's up with that?

  21. Oh yeah. Fancy silver ones. Very fetching.

  22. the wands are actually called beetles - "The Verger carried a Beetle"?

  23. my folks sent me the set up through #5 which I enjoyed a lot -- a nice diversion from seminary reading. We got a group together to sing The Weasel Cantata at the Iliff Picnic, and dedicated it to our Hebrew Bible professor. He loved it!


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