For Two Rockhurst Professors, Mystery Series is a Labor of LoveDecember 3, 2014

It starts with a rainy day on the Midwestern campus of a liberal arts college.

Sound familiar? Maybe. But where The Case of the Owl of Minerva, the third and latest entry in the Fr. Shrader mysteries series from Curtis Hancock, Ph.D., professor of philosophy, and Charles Kovich, Ph.D., professor of English, goes from there is vastly different than any event on the Rockhurst faculty members’ own campus.

Released officially about a month ago, The Case of the Owl of Minerva finds Fr. Dietrich Shrader, a prominent philosophy professor at St. Swithun’s College, in the middle of a web of murder and academic intrigue for the third time. Kovich said the idea of writing a mystery novel started over lunch more than a decade ago.

“Curtis and I arrived at Rockhurst at the same time, so we’ve been friends for many years and we would have these regular lunches together,” he said. “We eventually started talking about writing something together and we both knew we really wanted to do something different.”

Fans of Sherlock Holmes, Hancock said the two decided to write a mystery novel. But Shrader’s skill in solving a mystery is anything but elementary.

“Our hero uses neither deductive nor inductive logic to solve the crimes,” Kovich said. “Fr. Shrader uses philosophical insight.”

In two previous books, Fr. Shrader has used Ockham’s razor and Plato’s ideas on madness to solve the crimes. In The Case of the Owl of Minerva, Fr. Shrader uses a passage from George Wilhelm Frederick Hegel that has become a popular philosophical query on the nature of knowledge to solve the wrong doing.

It may be creative fiction, but both Hancock and Kovich said a lot from their respective areas of expertise works its way into the stories, as well.

“For instance, I write a lot about language, so sometimes that finds its way into the books,” Kovich said.

Between those references and the philosophical basis for the book, Kovich and Hancock both said the series is meant to be educational as well as entertaining.

“We are reaching a whole new audience with these books,” Hancock said. “It’s another way we get to show off our fields to a lot of people who might not get exposed to that work otherwise.”

That said, both also asserted that writing the Fr. Shrader mysteries are less about showcasing their academic lives and more about having fun.

“We meet weekly to write chapters and the two of us have a lot of fun together,” Hancock said. “We hope that comes through in the book.”

In addition to the mystery and the aspects of their academic work that comes through, the two authors also said that the Fr. Shrader mysteries all carry a sense of satire about the trappings of life in academia.

“I think the Kansas City Star wrote that we were ‘equal opportunity satirists,’ and I think that’s a pretty good way to put it,” Kovich said. “It’s definitely done out of reverence.”

It’s a combination of elements that has earned the series’ authors fans at home and across the country. Kovich said since the release of the last book in the early 2000s, there have been plenty of questions about future entries in the series. He admitted the third book has been a long time coming.

“I’ve done all kinds of writing during my career, including playwriting and screenwriting, but writing a novel is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Kovich said.

Hancock agreed. Between the characters, the different plots and subplots and the other details, making sure a book — especially the third book in an ongoing series — makes sense takes a lot of planning and double-checking that can be hard to fit into the schedule of a full-time college professor.

But both Hancock and Kovich said the next entry in the Fr. Shrader series should not mean as long a wait. The authors said they have a supply of philosophical concepts to build stories around, and a fair amount of ideas of where to take Fr. Shrader. He said they plan to start sketching the next novel next semester, and working mostly through the summer.

But for now, they said they will be promoting The Case of the Owl of Minerva. Hancock and Kovich will host a book reading and signing at 3:30 p.m., Monday, Dec. 8, outside of the Rockhurst University bookstore in Massman Hall.

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