A new Baha’i-inspired crime novel has recently been published by my dear friend, Alan Manifold, and to be honest, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a novel of this kind being released, so I’m so excited to share this everyone!
Alan Manifold is the author of Consulting Detective, a murder mystery set in contemporary United States, and it’s centred around a Baha’i character whose actions are guided by principles and teachings of the Baha’i Faith. We eagerly chatted with Alan about his new crime novel, and here is our conversation:
Baha’i Blog: Hi Alan, can you tell us a little bit about the book?
Consulting Detective is quite possibly the first murder mystery to feature a Baha’i detective. Police Detective Mihdi Montgomery is called to investigate the murder of a Jewish Rabbi in a synagogue in his Chicago suburb. Montgomery works to find the murderer amongst all those with a motive and opportunity. Mihdi questions people to determine how and to what extent they are involved, but he also uses the Baha’i process of consultation with multiple groups to tap into the power of collective experience and wisdom.
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about why you decided to write the book and why it was important for you to do it?
I read lots of mysteries, and my wife, Lorraine, and I enjoy watching mysteries on television. But the detectives are frequently thoroughly dislikeable. Most can’t maintain any balance in their lives, and have one failed relationship after another. Some are so self-absorbed that they are cruel and insensitive to others. They often break the law and use violence to get what they want. Many are heavy drinkers and/or highly prejudiced. I get tired of watching them destroy themselves and their investigations through these flaws.
We all struggle with how to live an upright life in the face of the realities of life. A detective who sees death, violence, and criminality at every turn might have a harder time than most. But I think that a Baha’i detective might turn to prayer, friendship, relationship-building, trust, and respect, rather than to violence or self-destructive behaviours. And I imagine that a Baha’i would rely on the strong bonds of family and the Baha’i community ties to carry them through difficult times. I believe that most police choose that profession because they are highly motivated to help people – to protect and serve – but that doesn’t always show through in the detective fiction I’ve read.
Baha’i Blog: What’s something that really touched you, or that you personally learned during the process of working on the book?
The first draft of the book, really just a short story, was written more than 15 years ago. I dragged it out occasionally and made a few tweaks, but I didn’t really work on it very often or very regularly. Then I read Steven Pressfield’s short book called The War of Art, which talks about how all artists face what he calls “resistance”: a thousand obstacles to doing and completing art. The solution to resistance is just to “do the work.” So, I finally sat down and pushed myself to write on a very regular basis for specified periods of time. With that discipline, I overcame the resistance and produced a manuscript that was ready to submit to a publisher. The importance of continuing to do creative work has really stuck with me.
Baha’i Blog: The book is a murder mystery novel which incorporates the virtues and principles of the Baha’i Faith, and also themes relating to interfaith dialogue. Were there any challenges when presenting these themes when writing the book?
Advice that writers often hear is to “write what you know.” So, writing about virtues, principles of the Baha’i Faith, and interfaith dialogue is no problem for me. I’ve been a Baha’i now for more than 40 years, my wife is a Virtues Project facilitator, and I’ve been involved in interfaith work in multiple communities in two countries. Those are things I know.
It’s the murder and crime part that I don’t really know so much about. So, in writing about Mihdi Montgomery, my fictional detective, I steered clear of too much emphasis on things I don’t know and instead concentrated on interpersonal relationships, analytical thinking, religious history and principles, and other areas where I felt more confident. I have no idea if a criminologist or police officer reading the book will scoff at some of my descriptions, but I hope that people will find Mihdi to be a real and interesting character, surrounded by other real and interesting characters.
Baha’i Blog: What do you hope readers will take away from your novel?
Thinking of Mihdi’s methods of investigation calls to mind how Baha’is, within the framework of the global plans, are trying to be in a learning mode. We assess the reality of our lives and our communities, evaluate our resources, try out different approaches, determine what works and what doesn’t, and make adjustments based on our experience. We do this in a cyclical fashion, alternating periods of intense activity with periods of consolidation, followed by reflection and planning. And we do all of this in community, never thinking that we are alone in the work of bettering the world.
It doesn’t seem like such a stretch to think about applying those principles to solving crimes or with just about any profession. I’d like to think that Baha’is, looking at the world with clear vision tinged with compassion, would be terrific detectives, but also make great librarians, engineers, doctors, educators, athletes, or lawyers. What profession couldn’t use people like that?
Baha’i Blog: That’s awesome! Is there anything else you’d like to share, Alan?
Baha’u’llah stated that “Arts, crafts and sciences uplift the world of being, and are conducive to its exaltation.”1 The Universal House of Justice wrote that “the arts are powerful instruments to serve the Cause.”2 While we’re studying, conversing, and acting to build community, we will be well served to remember the efficacy of the arts to aid the work. For me, that includes choral music and writing, as well as dabbling in other arts. Each person has their own reality, but for a fuller and more effective life, the arts should definitely be part of it.