The Saint Maker (Dell, 1961), by Leonard Holton.
Illustration by Robert K. Abbett.
This was the premiere entry in an 11-book series featuring Father Joseph Bredder, a “Los Angeles Franciscan priest detective, who had been a professional boxer then seen service as a decorated sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps.” “Leonard Holton” was actually prolific Irish-born author Leonard Wibberley (1915-1983) perhaps best remembered for having written that satirical 1955 novel, The Mouse that Roared. In a 1992 study titled Mysterium and Mystery: The Clerical Crime Novel, Massachusetts theology professor William David Spencer wrote that “In the Father Bredder mystery tales, [Wibberley attempted to lift] the meek Father Brownish cleric up from the supposedly slumbering irrelevancy of a local parish convent chaplaincy to astound the police with his uncanny ability to track elusive murderers across the complex spiritual landscape of fraud, dissemblance, and self-deception to the lair of the guilty soul.” He adds that the short-lived, 1971-1972 NBC-TV program Sarge, starring George Kennedy as a San Diego police detective sergeant turned priest, was inspired by the Father Bredder books.
Here’s a synopsis of The Saint Maker (originally published in 1959), quoted from Philip Grosset’s Clerical Detectives Web site:
The Father Bredder novels are short, fast-moving and full of action. The first book, The Saint Maker, begins promisingly with Father Bredder trying to make peace with the rather cold, disapproving Reverend Mother of the convent (to which he is chaplain) by sending her a present of a melon. Unfortunately, though, she discovers that what the bag actually contains is a woman's head. “An older priest of gentler upbringing than (40-year-old) Father Bredder, Reverend Mother thought, would never have become mixed up with a murder.” But, for Father Bredder, “Murder is a crime that cries, not merely for vengeance, but far more important, it cries for repentance. And I must do what I can to find the murderer and bring him or her to repentance for the salvation of his soul.” There's plenty of humor too, as when the police start making enquiries about Father Bredder with the result that an assortment of small-time crooks whom he has helped in one way or another, all come sidling up to him to offer to help him flee the country.The last Father Bredder novel was A Corner of Paradise (1977).