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Literature / The Father Luke Wolfe Trilogy

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"Hey Father, what's going on? Are you getting mixed up in another murder?"
Tony Santos, Zero Tolerance

The Father Luke Wolfe Trilogy is a series of novels with Christian aesops, written by Jesuit priest John Becker, S.J. Father Becker was an English teacher at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, Arizona. His novels star Father Luke Wolfe, an English teacher at Kino College Preparatory in Phoenix, Arizona.

However, don't mistake this as a case of Real Life Writes the Plot! These are no Slice of Life stories, but murder mysteries. Someone, probably related to one of Father Wolfe's students somehow, ends up dead, and the old priest is inevitably entangled in its resolution. The motives behind the violence also relate somehow to a Christian belief, so the characters and the audience can learn a little something on the way. The plot is also revealed to parallel that of a reading assignment Father Wolfe's students are studying.

Oh, and there are some puns thrown in here and there.

Father Becker's first novel, Father, Forgive Them (2002), is concerned with abortion. A charismatic abortionist, Doctor Curtland, winds up dead, and the seeming murderer is his own son, Larry. However, despite Larry having fired at his father multiple times, no bullets are recovered; in fact, Dr. Curtland has no signs of trauma anywhere, yet he's still dead. Father Wolfe must clear his student's name by discovering the true cause of death—and despite his friendly manner, Dr. Curtland had managed to make a lot of enemies.

The sequel, Cold Comfort (2005), is about infidelity. When Kino's Jesuits find Gina Wainwright's pregnant corpse locked up their freezer, Father Wolfe must figure out how she got there, and who had killed the well-loved trophy wife of Senator Gene Wainwright. Did someone want her out of the picture to get to Gene? Or had Gina been a little too well-loved, by someone other than her husband?

Zero Tolerance (2009), published posthumously, is a response to the sex scandals that have recently plagued the Catholic Church. In response to Bishop Klein's successful campaign against the Family Freedom abortuary, young men begin to blame priests of having molested them when they were children. Due to the Vatican's zero tolerance policy, which removes priests from active duty upon suspicion of sexual abuse, the Arizona diocese is quickly losing its practicing clerics. The only chance to crack open the plot is when one of the phony accusers is murdered right outside Kino's campus…

This trilogy contains examples of:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Father Sloan starts to speak like this at the end of Father, Forgive Them.
  • A Father to His Men: Principal/Father Sloan.
  • Alliterative Name: Samantha Smedana, Cynthia Smedana, Lyda Lott, Anthony Antler, Matt Moody, Homer Hoops, Peter Perlite, Chris Cringle.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Senator Wainwright.
  • Arson Murderand Jaywalking: "What's with all these abortion doctors? Don't they stop at murder? Are they all lechers, too?"
  • Big Bad: No matter what crime is going on, the abortuary is involved somehow. They take a much more active role as villains in Zero Tolerance.
  • Break the Cutie: This apparently happened to Rosa Morales when she found out she was pregnant. She got better after seeing her ultrasound.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The eight-ball and the motion-sensing frog in Father, Forgive Them. The triplets' bullhorn and aluminum foil in Cold Comfort. The Crowning Moment of Chekhov, however, is in Zero Tolerance, when Chet threatens to blame Father Wolfe of sexual harassment unless he receives a passing grade. The threat is recorded by Father Friedl, who had left a hole between their classrooms for electrical wiring in the previous novel.
  • Code Emergency
  • Continuity Nod: The three novels take place over a couple of months, so the characters of previous storylines continue to appear or be mentioned.
  • Cool Old Guy: Most of the old priests, and also Bishop Klein after he jumps over a wall to protect a student from a thug in Zero Tolerance.
  • Deadly Doctor: Dr. Brandt.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Colonel Stone.
  • Departmentof Redundancy Department: Amy Halloran: "Father, there are no bullet holes in the body. In the body of Larry's father. Doctor Curtland's body. No place. Not in his toes or his chest or his left ear. No place."
  • Died During Production: Averted for Zero Tolerance by some fellow Jesuits getting it published after Father Becker's death. Unfortunately, he was apparently beginning to work on a fourth, which will never be completed now.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When the bank robber realizes he's taken Father Wolfe hostage, he gloats that he'll get revenge for the F's Father had given him as a student.
  • Does This Remind Youof Anything?: Early mentions are made in Father, Forgive Them to the story of David and Bathsheba and, especially, to Hamlet. By the end, we realize just how similar Dr. Brandt's actions are to those of David and Claudius.
    • It happens again with Allie Carpenter and Iago in Cold Comfort.
    • And again with Colonel Stone and Brutus in Zero Tolerance.
  • Dr. Jerk: Dr. Brandt, but not Dr. Curtland.
  • Easy Evangelism: Subverted. Father Wolfe spends almost all of Father, Forgive Them trying, and failing, to make Larry unnastan why murder and Christianity are incompatible. He finally finds a way—by enlisting the help of the resident Pollyanna.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Father Friedl's plan to stop Chet from accusing Father Wolfe of sexually attacking him, utilizing a Hidden Wire.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Interestingly, it's not directly related to solving the murder.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: In Father, Forgive Them.
  • Flashback
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Terry and Barry.
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: When the triplets overhear Senator Wainwright talking about removing his horns, they don't unnastan what he was talking about. But Father Wolfe does.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Both subverted and played straight.
  • Good Shepherd: Father Wolfe.
  • Goshdang It To Heck: Rather than using a word like "shit," Father Wolfe asks his students to say "detritus," "excrement," "fecal matter," "guano," "refuse," or "feces."
  • Green-Eyed Monster: A major theme of Cold Comfort.
  • Hannibal Lecture: A weird, friendly example. When Father Wolfe is talking to Larry in prison, Larry uses his teacher's own words to condone his attempted murder. Father Wolfe can't think of an effective response.
  • Heroic BSoD: Larry, when his father shows him an educational abortion video.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: How Janey Peer died. Except she didn't.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Subverted. When Father Friedl's heart attack begins, he sits down with his hand on his chest and a pale face. He then asks Father Wolfe to call for paramedics. Father Becker was writing from firsthand experience here.
  • Hostage Situation
  • If I Can't Have You…: Allie Carpenter says the Stock Phrase just before shooting Senator Wainwright.
  • I Know Karate: Teri Johnson.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Jimmy Stone, apparently thanks to his Down's Syndrome.
  • Improvised Weapon: Joey Fetter's baseball.
  • Incredibly Obvious Tail
  • Infodump: For some reason, almost all the Red Herrings feel the need to explain their potential motives and opportunities for committing the crime when Father Wolfe first meets them.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Cyber Nettick and Lyda Lott.
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: During Father Wolfe's Nightmare Sequence.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Janet Peer happily accepted that Luke Wolfe was entering the Jesuit seminary, even though they would be separated, because he had found his place with God.
  • Lampshading: A student comments that G. K. Chesterton wrote the Father Brown mainstream murder mysteries to expose his readers to Catholic teachings, which is exactly what Father Becker is doing with this trilogy.
  • Literal-Minded: Father Sloan, in a very mild case.
  • Malaproper: Colonel Stone.
  • Meaningful Name: Dr. Bier never performs an abortion sober. The girl at the abortion protest Father Wolfe saved from the concierge is named Natalie—as in natal, related to birth.
  • Meido: At Senator Wainwright's mansion.
  • Men Don't Cry: Subverted by male characters of various ages.
  • Nightmare Sequence
  • Off the Wagon: A variation with Senator Wainwright. As a potential governor/eventual presidential candidate, he avoids drinking for long periods of time. Until he does, and then he really does. And the next morning, he invariably can't remember what happened to him the previous night. When his wife Gina reveals her pregnancy, Gene assumes she cheated on him, because he can't remember having sex with her recently.
  • One Scene, Two Monologues: A variation in Zero Tolerance where Father Wolfe participates in separate conversations with multiple students at once. The students ignore each other, but their dialogue is written in consecutive paragraphs, making it sound like this trope.
  • Posthumous Character: The murder victims, but also Janey Peer and "Chollie." Until Janey Peer shows up in Zero Tolerance.
  • Posthumous Collaboration: Zero Tolerance got published thanks to Sister Donna Jeanne McGahey (and others), who had also helped Father Becker on the previous two as well.
  • Punny Name: Cyber Nettick, Randy Jokes, Lyda Lott, Burger Hamm, Hairy Rabbitt, Molly Fied (but that's pronounced FEYE-yed), Hugh Nohs, Ben Dover, Dana Poynt, Harry Ahrmpitt, Amos Keetoh, Jimmy de Lokk, Cary Meebak, Titus Canbee, Adam Upp, Hans Sendfete, Al Kaline, Gus Zundhite, Otto Mattick, Joe Veeyul, Clay Feeht, Elmer Skloo, Gerry Attrick, Todd Lingh, Chester Rytesyze, Mike Rowfoan, Barry Pye.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure
  • Red Herring: Larry, Arthur, Mrs. Curtland and Mrs. Smedana; this example is unusual in that they all actually WANTED to commit the murder.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better
  • Running Gag: Father Wolfe's students chastising him for being sarcastic with them: "Sarcasm, no sarcasm, Father." Also, students showing up to say hello or print something just as Father opens the classroom in the morning.
    • "Father, there's a lady at the door."
  • Serial Escalation: It starts to feel like this in Father, Forgive Them as the number of characters with potential motives continues to increase.
  • Serious Business: Joey's signed baseball.
  • Shout-Out: Oh, so many, especially to William Shakespeare.
  • Shrinking Violet: Francesca Morales, an adult example.
  • Signature Style: Father Becker likes to include in his prose—or possibly they're meant to be Father Wolfe's thoughts—hyphenated interjections.
  • Single-Minded Twins: Terry and Barry. "It was impossible to tell them apart: they seemed to be one person. And they too seemed to be aware of their oneness."
  • Smug Snake: Dr. Brandt.
  • Snooping Little Kid: Terry and Barry. And Todd.
  • Staged Shooting
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Terry and Barry.
  • Techno Wizard: Terry and Barry.
  • Theme Twin Naming: Terry and Barry and Mary.
  • The Mole: Todd does this to the perjurers, but nothing ever comes of it.
  • The Pollyanna: Rita Poulos.
  • The Voiceless: Lyda Lott's camerawoman.
  • Twin Banter: Terry and Barry. Even over the phone.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: After Senator Wainwright threatens a priest, gets knocked out by a pitched baseball, and carried away by paramedics, all recorded for the evening news, it's time for a quiz on punctuation.
  • Verbal Tic: Everyone except Father Wolfe says "unnastan" in lieu of "understand."
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Arthur and Mrs. Curtland seem to have this relationship, making it one of the rare mother-son examples.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Larry Curtland. In fact, everyone who wanted Dr. Curtland dead had aspects of this except the one who actually did it.
  • World of Pun: Given Father Becker's favorite kind of joke, this comes as no surprise.
  • Write Who You Know: Father Wolfe is basically Fr. Becker (note that they're both named after Gospel writers), and pretty much every character who isn't involved in the mystery plot is a student or another teacher he knew at Brophy. In fact, Kino itself is a stand-in for Brophy.
  • You All Share My Story: Most characters are Kino students, Kino alumni or parents of a Kino student.