What I’ve been listening to, reading, and watching lately.

My current tv habit includes “Friday Night Dinner” a British sit-com about about well, a family having Friday night dinner. The first two seasons are on CBC Gem. It is simple, predictable, and at times very juvenile. It also makes me laugh out loud.

We turned to Friday Night Dinners when we ran out of “All Creatures Great and Small”, also on Gem. It’s a re-boot of the old series based on James Herriot’s books about life as a veterinarian in rural England. It features many lovely animals, incredible scenery, and a calming, slow-paced story.

Speaking of slow-paced stories rooted in the agrarian world, I read “The Ghost Orchard” by Kingston’s Helen Humphreys. It’s illustrated with wonderful watercolour images of apples of different varieties, dating from a time when the USDA commissioned artists to paint what could not be captured in the black and white photography available at the time. The book is partly an account of the author’s journey with grief over the death of a close friend, and mostly an exploration of what is described in the subtitle as the “hidden history of the apple in North America”. I didn’t know that all varieties of apples on this continent except crab apples, can be traced back to one valley in Kazakhstan.

The poetic sensibility of The Ghost Orchard, as well as its brief, but fascinating reference to the role of First Nations communities in establishing apple orchards in North America brought to mind another lovely book, that I read last fall, and which informed several “learning times”, or sermons I prepared for the congregation I serve.

Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book is way outside my usual realm of reading choices, but was recommended to me at a time when I was looking to make links to worship and teaching themes, and the efforts we now make at the beginning of gatherings at the church, to “greet” the land, and to acknowledge that we live on territory that has been colonized, but which has a rich history that pre-dates the arrival of Europeans.

The denomination I serve had a role in the running of residential schools that were part of Canadian federal government’s efforts to assimilate First Nations children, and effectively eliminate what was called in blatantly racist terms, “the Indian Problem”.

The acknowledgement of territory is part of a much larger project of coming to terms with our shared history, with the hope of working towards a better future.

A friend, and fellow United Church minister, the Rev. David Giuliano wrote a novel that addresses in a fictional way, the long term effects on a community when abuse is perpetrated, and then largely swept under the carpet, as too shameful to acknowledge. David based his book on the terrible story of a trusted member of a Northern Ontario community who used his influence and position to victimize young men.

David is a thoughtful observer of humanity and the natural world, and a hopeful mystic. His novel is beautiful, and lyrically poetic in places, and despite the despicable events that triggered the story, very funny.

While I have had the honour of reading “beta” copies of books before the author submits them for publication, David is the first writer to ask me to read an advanced reader’s copy of his book, to write a “blurb”.

Things I wrote about the book appear on an inside page of the print edition, and on the online description of his book if you look it up on Amazon.

I also helped lead a Zoom-based online discussion of his book, “The Undertaking of BIlly Buffone” which we called “The Big Read”.

David’s book is about crimes that went unpunished, in the sense of the perpetrator going through justice system.

One of the secondary, but interesting characters in David’s book is a fresh out of seminary United Church of Canada minister.

The protagonist in my own first novel, as yet unpublished, is an older, less fresh United Church minister. When a dead body literally falls out of the wall in the church he serves, he falls into the role of investigator. Through the course of the novel he becomes more committed to seeing some form of justice, some righting of wrongs occur. In my own way, I am carrying on a tradition. There is a lively sub-genre in the mystery world, of amateur sleuths who are clergy: priests, monks, nuns, pastors and rabbis. They engage

I like stories that involve a world-weary, but still determined seeker of justice. I see that in the tv version of Michael Connelly’s Hieronymous Bosch. I confess I have not read any of the novels.

I am nearing the end of my binge of all available seasons of Bosch, the Amazon Prime Video series based on the police procedurals by Michael Connelly, who was an executive producer on the series. For me, the star of the show is the city of Los Angeles. I have no great desire to travel there, but enjoy the glimpses offered of the night-time skyline, and the sanitized, but still fairly gritty streets of downtown Hollywood.

When I run out of Bosch, I have it in mind to watch season four of Coroner, on CBC Gem. I enjoyed the writing on the first three seasons, and it’s a great show for playing “where in the GTA did they shoot that scene”. We lived for about 20 years in the Golden Horseshoe, and I can often pick out at least the community or neighbourhood they use.

I listen to books while I drive or cycle. I enjoyed the latest Orphan X thriller by Gregg Hurwitz. Hurwitz is good at what he does. I tell myself that reading his stuff is research, since I am at the moment working on my own “thriller” involving some of the characters from my first novel.

The protagonist of the Orphan X books is a highly trained, very dangerous person who has left behind a life of doing terrible things on assignment by a covert government agency. He now spends his time trying to atone for all the bad things he did, by putting his skills to work helping people no one else can, or will. Think of an amalgam of “The Equalizer” and Jack Reacher.

X’s deal is that if you call his 1-800 number and ask for his help, he helps. Most of his clients have easily typed as “innocent victims”, and that makes it easy for the knight errant to rationalize the violence and mayhem he creates while rescuing, saving, helping them. In the latest adventure, “Dark Horse’, the call comes from someone who does not qualify as either a victim or innocent, who needs help rescuing his daughter from evil kidnappers. There are almost as many philosophical twists and turns along the way as there are cliff-hanging ends to chapters.