(by decorahnews.com's Ben Gardner):
David Faldet, professor of English at Luther College, recently published his first novel, "King: A Mystery."
The novel is a detective story about a mysterious religious leader Joshua King, his death, and one man's pursuit to learn the truth about King's death. Prior to his death, King's followers refer to him as the messiah and his religious movement provokes animosity in the local Iowa community. Upon mysterious King's death, one man, night watchman Arnie Mikesh, takes it upon himself to uncover the truth surrounding the spiritual leader's death. Set in 2008, Faldet uses the Recession and the disastrous flood of '08 to parallel the tumult and drama depicted in the Christian gospels.
Faldet's work on his "King" began in January 2009. The inspiration for the novel came, in part, from the What Would Jesus Do? bracelets that were popular among Christians in the late '90s and early '00s. Faldet saw these bracelets on many of his students and became intrigued. He started using the question as a thought experiment, thinking about what a Jesus-like figure would do and how this person would be perceived in present day Decorah.
The thought experiment proved a useful storytelling device because it gave Faldet both a character and, perhaps more importantly, a place: Decorah, following the disastrous flood of 2008. In addition to having a strong sense of place, it was important for Faldet to people his mystery novel with authentic characters. "I wanted to portray people I'd imagine living in Decorah," said Faldet.
Faldet also drew inspiration from non-canonical gospels, including the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary, as well as the work of biblical scholar Elaine Pagels. These gospels depict much of the tension in the early Jesus movement regarding whether Jesus was the Messiah and the role of women in the early church. Faldet used this historical conflict as inspiration for his own novel. "In part I'm trying to honor what I see in the gospels, on the other hand, I'm trying to only portray what I believe is possible," said Faldet.
Faldet is a fan of detective novels. In addition "King," other Luther faculty and staff have published mystery novels, including Loyal Rue and Robert Felde. I ask Faldet if, for academics, there's something especially enticing about writing mystery novels. "Mysteries appeal to academics because it's problem solving at work," said Faldet. "It starts out with an unsolved problem or some disorder or crime and the detective is trying to create order, to put things right, to solve the problem. That's how an academic works. I find it a totally natural outlet for an academic mind."
At the end of our interview, I ask Faldet for a couple mystery recommendations. Faldet was eager to recommend two regional mystery writers: William Kent Krueger's "Ordinary Grace" and Allen Eskins "The Life We Bury."