Debra Murphy

Debra Murphy is a writer and the web/print publisher of Idylls Press. A lifelong devotee of classic Catholic novelists such as Flannery O'Connor and Evelyn Waugh, Debra was the founder and original (until 2012) publisher/editor of Debra has published articles and short stories in a number of online and print venues, including Godspy, Image Journal, Second Spring, This Rock, and Catholic Exchange. She blogs and reviews at,, and Debra lives with her husband and six children in southern Oregon.

Book Reviews by Debra Murphy

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The Man Who Was Thursday

From the back cover of the illustrated Idylls Press edition:

"Originally published in 1908, G.K. Chesterton's nightmare-fantasy of Police vs. Dynamiters, Law vs. Anarchy, and Religion vs. Nihilism has influenced writers as diverse as Franz Kafka and C.S. Lewis, and remains as exuberant and imaginative, as original and prophetic as when if first appeared."

While Chesterton is probably best known in Christian circles for his apologetical works (The Everlasting Man, Orthodoxy, et al.), his novels are simultaneously so much fun and yet so profound that it is long...

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Stealing Jenny

"Catholic fiction" is a broad and slippery term, capable of encompassing a vast range of themes and approaches. In some ways it may more fruitfully be discussed in terms of what it precludes rather than what it includes. Either way, there is a small but growing segment of the fiction market in general and the "Catholic fiction" market in particular given over to stories in the familiar popular genres but written by and for and about Catholics.

There is a need for such "genre" fiction, though many would disdain the notion, and here's why: As Chesterton once pointed out—he was arguing in favor of Balzac's fi...

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Each Angel Burns

Who, if I cried, would hear me, of the angelic

orders? or even supposing that one should suddenly
carry me to his heart — I should perish under the pressure
of his stronger nature. For beauty is only a step
removed from a burning terror we barely sustain,
and we worship it for the graceful sublimity
with which it disdains to consume us. Each angel burns.

Ranier Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies

Kathleen Valentine's Each Angel Burns is a romance suspense novel in the trad...

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Postmodern Belief: American Literature and Religion since 1960

It is often assumed, in England at least, that the age of great Christian literature is over. What we have instead, the argument goes, are books which either ignore religion completely, mock it mercilessly, or treat it as an irrational threat.

It is also assumed that the situation is quite different in the US where affirmations of religious belief are all but obligatory for politicians and where highly respected authors such as John Updike have espoused religious belief.

However, as Amy Hungerford demonstrates in Postmodern Belief, ...

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Loss and Gain: The Story of a Convert

John Henry Newman was a leading spiritual and intellectual figure in the so-called "Oxford Movement" in the Anglican Church when, after a lengthy spiritual struggle, he converted to Catholicism in 1845. Some of his friends preceded him into the Church and many of his followers followed him, which made for considerable controversy in robustly anti-Catholic mid-Victorian England. A small number of these converts later "reverted" and one of these, a Miss Elizabeth Harris, published an anti-Catholic novel in 1847 entitled From Oxford to Rome: And how it fared with some who lately made the journey.

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Son of Dust

Originally published in 1956 by MacMillan, Son of Dust by Anglo-Catholic novelist Hilda Frances Margaret Prescott is a historical romance set in eleventh century Normandy shortly before "William the Conqueror", Duke of Normandy, crossed the Channel to capture England in 1066.

The story is simple enough: Fulcun Geroy, a young and passionate and idealistic member of the landed gentry manages to resist one illicit sexual temptation only to be drawn into another and much more dangerous liaison with a married woman. And since this is a time when marriages were largely affairs of property and convenience,...

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The Body of This

The Liturgy of the Hours (Office of Readings), the Seventh Week of Easter contains the following excerpt from a sermon by a sixth century African bishop:

The disciples spoke in the language of every nation. At Pentecost God chose this means to indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit; whoever had received the Spirit spoke in every kind of tongue....It was love that was to bring the Church of God together all over the world. And as individual men who received the Holy Spirit in those days could speak in all kinds of tongues, so today the Church, united by the Holy Spirit, speaks in the language of ever...

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Life is a pilgrimage to God in God.

--St. Benedict

When a minor incident summons renewed guilt and nightmares over the accidental drowning of her eight-month-old child twenty years before, Madeleine Seymour, an erstwhile history professor, finally turns to her pastor, Fr. Rinaldi. "I killed her, Father," she tells him. "I left her alone in a wading pool. I killed her."

Without diminishing Maddie's responsibility, Fr. Rinaldi, once a Roman Catholic now an Anglican priest, gives the suffering woman good counsel about God's mercy and a seemingly strange penance: to go on a...

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Murder with Peacocks

A Meg Langslow mystery

The first in Donna Andrews' popular "Meg Langslow" series of "cozy" mysteries, Murder with Peacocks won the 1998 St. Martin's "Malice Domestic" award for best first traditional mystery. And it's easy to see why—with its engaging heroine (Meg Langslow, art metalworkeer and Langslow family miracle-worker), a colorful cast of Virginia small town eccentrics, a handsome-and-gentlemanly potential love interest, plus a smattering of domestic murders to baffle the local sherriff's office and elicit the am...

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Every Eye

"The late Isobel English was an exceptionally talented young novelist of the mid-1950s. Every Eye is one of her most successful and sensitively written books, a romantic yet unsentimental story of a young woman's intricate relationships of family and love, intensely evocative of the period, remarkable in its observations of place and character."

---Muriel Spark

If you've never heard of Isobel English, don't feel bad, I hadn't either until this book, a reprint of English's 1956 novel, was sent us by the publisher for review.

In some ways ...

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Jerome and the Seraph


"Whoops!" Brother Jerome clutched at the headstone on Father Aloysius's grave in an attempt to steady himself on the icy ground, but on the frozen grass his feet slid from beneath him. He pitched forward, his head hit the headstone with a thud and he slumped down, blood trickling from the cut on his temple.

His fellow friars gave him a good send-off. The Provincial traveled up for the funeral, and Jerome was interred in the same grave as Aloysius."

So begins, with a bang rather than a whimper, Robina Williams' delightful tale of the curious, rather in-be...

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The Sparrow

How's this for a "high-concept" premise for a bestselling sci-fi novel: The Jesuits in outer space. While the scenario may sound at first a mite odd—think First Contact meets Blackrobe—on second thought the notion is so obvious that one wonders why no one has thought of it before. (Actually, James Blish apparently used the idea in a 1958 short story.) Either way, the entire history of the Jesuit order would suggest that Jesuits would be among the first, certainly among the first missionaries, to attempt contact with intelligent aliens, were any such ever discovered. This intriguing concept, coup...

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Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

A funny thing happened between the time I graduated from the University of Illinois in 1976, when I first heard the word “Semiotics” (but hadn’t a clue what it meant), and the early nineties, when I began researching Shakespeare lit crit for a novel about a bunch of English Lit grad students: Theory had run amok in the hallowed halls of Academe. What a shock to discover, as I scanned the pages of The Shakespeare Quarterly, that I could no longer make do with comfortable old familiars like A.C. Bradley and Northrop Frye and Tom Eliot, but had to learn a whole new mode of “dis...

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Evelyn Waugh: A Biography

This 1975 biography of Catholic convert and novelist Evelyn Waugh, one of the luminaries of the so-called “Catholic Literary Revival” of the first half of the twentieth century, was written by Waugh’s contemporary, friend and fellow Catholic, English writer Christopher Sykes. In the relationship between the two men lies this particular biography’s strength and weaknesses. As friend, Sykes knew most of the people Waugh knew, and was able to give first-hand (or at least second-hand “from-the-horse’s-mouth”) accounts of many of the telling incidents he relates. The downside of this...

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The Shadow of the Bear

Author Regina Doman has re-worked the venerable "Snow White and Rose Red" fairy tale, one of the Grimm Brothers' most memorable, into a cracking good suspense yarn for young adults, and the young at heart of all ages.

Blanche and Rose Brier are a Sense-and-Sensibility pair of teenagers newly arrived, with their Widowed mother, in New York City after the untimely death of their father. While devoted to one another and their mother, an Emergency Room nurse, the girls couldn't be more unalike. Blanche is cautious and reserved, and her skepticism, verging on cynicism, at times extends even to her faith. The youn...

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Catholic, Ink.

Be part of the Catholic Literary Revival

Sign-up for this free weekly e-newsletter and receive the free article - "What is Catholic Fiction?" Read the weekly column The Catholic Imagination and You and more.