• Rob Hornberger

UPDATED: Harrow minister's novel probes anger, revenge — and murder

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

With his first book, Darrow Woods of Harrow United Church made the shortlist in a national mystery writing competition

Rev. Darrow Woods, of Harrow United Church, is a mystery writer and avid cyclist.

HARROW — United Church minister Darrow Woods has a mind for murder … when he writes about his fictional protagonist Rev. Thomas Book, who sets about solving the mystery of two deaths connected to the sexual abuse of young women.

Of the seven deadly sins, four — lust, wrath, greed and envy — are the usual motives for murder in fiction, and in real life.

But in Woods’ novel The Book of Answers, it’s cold-blooded revenge, mixed with some anger.

“In the first (murder) it was a minister acting inappropriately with a young woman, somebody becomes aware of it, who is disgusted, and arranges his death,” Woods said.

The book is based on real events, and deals with a minister who abused his position and took advantage of a young girl.

“One of the underlying themes is what happens to the first guy — 25 years before things are set in motion — and how it makes it more possible for another predator and another murder to happen,” he said.

The book deals with how events are forgotten, buried, and how more tragedy ensues when the first tragedy is not addressed by the church congregation.

The book is, as yet, unpublished, but was entered in the Arthur Ellis Awards competition for unpublished crime fiction. The awards are named after Arthur Ellis, the hangman who oversaw the last public hangings in Canada at the Don Jail in Toronto in 1962.

Of the 50 or 60 unpublished works, Woods’ book was shortlisted amongst the top five. His submission didn’t win, but as a finalist he did attend an award ceremony in 2017 in Toronto with his wife, Lexie Chamberlain. They rubbed shoulders with such well-known literary luminaries as Linwood Barclay, Anne Emery, A.J. Devlin and publisher Jack David.

“I met publishers, agents, other authors,” he said. “Just to dip your toe in that water was lovely.”

Amongst Woods’ favourite mystery writers are Robert Parker, author of the Spenser series of novels, James Lee Burke and Louise Penny, a Canadian author whose main character is Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec.

Many of the detectives in crime novels are brooding, troubled individuals who stray outside the law to solve a crime

“They have, if not a code, they have a strong sense of who they are and what is right and wrong … (some) protagonists in mysteries and thrillers appeal to our baser side or they appeal to what we wish we could get away with,” Woods said. He said Inspector Gamache is portrayed by Penny as a policeman who is cultured, well-read, refined and operates for the most part by the book.

Woods' protagonist, Rev. Thomas Book, falls into the latter category, someone who is confronted by the murder of a colleague, commits himself to finding the person responsible and "wants to do the right thing, in the right way."

Following the mystery format, Book is a tormented soul. His wife has died and he is beset by feelings of depression, grief and self-blame.

“It becomes apparent to him that these events were terrible and because they’re terrible — they actually provide a way out of that spot,” Woods said.

And again, following the genre, the closer he gets to the truth the more his life is endangered.

While posted in Oakville, Woods attended a creative writing course at Sheridan College and worked closely with instructor and novelist Melodie Campbell.

“I was the only one in the class that wanted to write a mystery novel and we kind of hit it off. She encouraged me," he said.

“She said, ‘you just have to do this, write, then submit it.’”

While researching the novel, he received complete co-operation from the congregation of a United Church in Oakville.

“They were completely on board with the novel … they let me tour the church,” he said.

“If you can work at being kind, first be kind to yourself, but be kind to people who are around you … that’s a good message for these days.”

Woods entered the ministry 30 years ago.

“There was a strong sense of calling. I had a naive sense of being a minister but I really didn’t know what they did. I’m still figuring it out, but I had the idea my spiritual life was important to me, the sense of being on a journey and if I could be in an area that helps people in their journey as well, that would be ideal.”

Woods has had postings in rural Saskatchewan and Manitoba, forestry towns in New Brunswick and in Windsor, Hamilton, Mississauga, Oakville and finally Harrow.

His choice of Harrow was by design.

“Harrow was open and the prospect of being Darrow from Harrow was too much to resist,” he said.

Prior to COVID 19, he was also a frequent visitor to Harrowood Retirement Home. He liked the catch-phrase, Darrow Woods goes to Harrowood.

Woods has a sense of humour — and compassion — which is a needed tonic for the times.

“If you can work at being kind, first be kind to yourself, but be kind to people who are around you … that’s a good message for these days.”

Woods is reworking The Book of Answers and is currently writing a new novel, Book of Strong Suggestions, set in Essex County.

Cycling to support cancer research

Darrow Woods was never much of a cyclist until this summer, when he rode 950 kilometres in one month to raise money for cancer research at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. He raised $1,215.

Woods will be writing about his cycling adventures through Essex County

in an upcoming column in the Kingsville Observer.

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