Best Clergyperson/Mystery Novelist: Holiest writer
In Cranston's debut novel The Madonna Murders, a theology professor at a Berkeley Episcopal seminary tackles crises of both body and soul and becomes a spiritual sleuth when gruesome murders happen on hallowed ground under the watchful eyes of the Icon of Kazan. In real life, this image of the Madonna and Child has been venerated in Russia since the 16th century, disappeared in 1918, reappeared in a European auction, spent ten years in a San Francisco church, and was returned to Moscow in 2004. Cranston, who is also a published poet, followed that creative-writing-class credo to "write what you know" if not about vicious killings, then at least about the cloth. The Oakland author is an Episcopal priest, ordained in 1990 after attending Berkeley's Church Divinity School of the Pacific and a stint in England as a nun. Losing a brother to hepatitis in 1995 she gave him the last rites further confirmed Cranston's commitment to hospice work and chaplaincy. Largely set in the Berkeley Hills, this novel joins the ever-rising stack of East Bay puzzlers, a genre unto itself.