Water from a Stone: "The Sweating Statue" (1985) by Edward D. Hoch

Edward D. Hoch's "The Sweating Statue" is the third short story to feature his modern-day Father Brown character, Father David Noone, who's one of Hoch's lesser-known series-characters – appearing in only half a dozen short stories since the 1960s. Hoch has said he always kept the character of Father Noone around for "just the right type of story."

"The Sweating Statue," originally published in Detectives A-Z: 26 Stories with a Sleuth for Every Letter of the Alphabet (1985) and reprinted in Murder Most Sacred (1989), is exactly such a short story. Father David Noone is a parish priest in large, unnamed city and a so-called miracle has brought nationwide attention to his aging inner city.

Two weeks previously, the first arrivals for morning Mass arrived and noticed that the wooden statue of the Virgin on the side altar "seemed covered with sweat." The statue was wiped clean, but statue started to sweat again a few moments later. Father Noone tries to convince his parishioners that no miracle has taken place. After all, G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown once famously remarked, "miracles are not so cheap as all that," but it keeps happening – every day the morning Mass crowd gets bigger. Even the media is starting to pay attention. That brings Monsignor Thomas Xavier, "the Cardinal's troubleshooter," to Holy Trinity Church to investigate this reported miracle. However, "the statue seems to be having a ripple effect on the lives of a great many people." Such as the very religious Celia Orlando and her non-religious boyfriend, Kevin Frisk, who thinks Father Noone is filling her head with "crazy notions of a miracle." This situation culminates with Father Noone discovering the body of the church custodian, Marcos, beneath a flight of stairs with a broken neck. And that brings even more media attention to the place ("man found dead at "miracle" church"). So what the hell is going on?

Curiously enough, Father Noone's role as series-detective is usurped Monsignor Xavier, which I assume was done to give Detectives A-Z anthology an entry for "X." Monsignor Xavier is the one who notices the two tell-tale clues that neatly explain how a statue can sweat bullets and why Marcos ended up dead at the bottom of the stairs. Short, simple and satisfying. So another solid short story effort from Hoch with a very well handled impossible situation.

Just one little side comment. Mike Grost comments on his website that he doesn't share the general enthusiasm for this story, "the mystery of the statue itself, is solidly done," but finds the story too grim and gloomy in its storytelling with all of the characters (believers and non-religious alike) cast in a negative light. I agree to a certain extend. "The Sweating Statue" is simply a good detective story, but the characters and situation used to tell that detective story needed to be fleshed out more. I think the story would have hit very differently, if it had the room to tell why Kevin Frisk is a militant atheist or why an extremely religious woman like Celia Orlando loved him. Or why Father Noone appeared to be so passive throughout the story. I imagine a novel-length treatment of "The Sweating Statue" would read like Andrew M. Greeley-style impossible crime novel (e.g. Happy Are Those Who Mourn, 1995), except the plot wouldn't be a huge letdown.

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