A Night of Detection, the Culp Professor Reading

0 Commentsby   |  04.26.12  |  Faculty Spotlight


Mr. Boddy was strangled by a short length of rope in the billiard room of his mansion. Who would commit such a heinous act? Why?

Thus Dr. Chris Willerton kicked off the Fourth Annual Culp Professor Reading on the evening of April 10th not with a clearing of the throat or shuffling of papers, but with murder most mendacious. And after that the ride got even better…



Sandwiched between discussions of his research into a possible Christian way of reading mysteries (along with short bios of crime writers he’s looked at so far), Dr. Willerton drew upon some weirdly capable fellow faculty members to present a live version of CLUE.

Alibis were heard. Suspects were questioned sharply. In turn suspects accused one another. It all ended in a vote by the audience. Who did they think had strangled Mr. Boddy?


As the new Culp Professor, Dr. Willerton has begun researching and writing about 6-8 detective novelists. He read excerpts from an article and papers on three of them.

Dorothy L. Sayers represented the Classical Age in detective fiction with her
hero Lord Peter Wimsey. In an excerpt from his article “Dorothy L. Sayers and
the Creative Reader,” Dr. Willerton linked her Trinitarian theory of art to later
Reader-Response Theory, the basis for his own study.

Ian Rankin is a contemporary writer Dr. Willerton is studying. In his article “Detective Noir and Christian Readers,” he has argued that Ian Rankin’ Edinburgh police procedurals (so-called “Tartan Noir”) are “hospitable” texts for many Christians. They use their violence, topicality, and detectives’ idealism to confront questions important to Christians.

John le Carre, who is still going strong into his 80’s, is another focus of Dr. Willerton’s research. In an exercept from “Detective as Spy as Detective in Novels of John le Carré” Dr. Willerton considered the use of genre in two early novels and how it enables readers to understand an ethically ambiguous universe—one where characters are pulled between ethical imperatives.


There was no youthful Charles Dickens in the audience taking notes of the proceedings, but had he been there to do so, he might have noted the following:


The Vicar (Stephen Weathers) was an oily character, both figuratively and literally. At the hour of the murder he claimed to have been with a “toothless bearded hag” who was dying. “I anointed her with oil,” the Vicar snidely intoned. “Lubrication is my specialty.”








Freelance editor Ms. Peddi Antry (Carolyn Thompson) offered perhaps the best alibi of all. She had been out of the country, editing a book.






Barclay Wells Fargo (Steven Moore) was another matter. The accountant kept flashing a $20 bill (a bribe perhaps) and insisted his handsome face was enough to deem him innocent. He said he went home after work and partied with some friends–on the Internet.


Thurman Zamboni (Al Haley), a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, spoke of working on his magnum opus which has consumed him for the past ten years. “At 8 o’clock I was in my study revising p. 732. At that time I took out a comma. At five minutes before midnight I put the comma back in. I considered it a good day’s work.”


After Zamboni vilified the vicar and accused him of being a closeted Rolling Stones fan and Barclay Wells Fargo again flashed his wad of green while Ms. Peddi Antry shot editorial daggers in every direction, the audience voted overwhelmingly that the guilty party was…


We almost forgot to say that The Culp Professorship is awarded competitively for three-year terms. Recipients have reduced teaching loads and a research budget and must pursue a major professional project. Previous recipients have been James Culp, Darryl Tippens, Gay Barton, Steve Weathers, and Al Haley.


Well, of course, it was that evil hearted representative of the 1%–Barclay Wells Fargo–who dunit!


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