Monday, October 5, 2009

Review: Bleeder -- a miracle? or a bloody murder?

I love reading about the Catholic faith. I love reading mysteries.  To be able to combine the two makes for a very happy person.  So when I saw a new mystery, titled Bleeder by John Desjarlais, I thought I should give it a try.

I'm glad I did. 

The author, a former producer of Wisconsin Public Radio, now teaches journalism and English at a small college in northern Illinois.  Although this is his first mystery, he has a couple of novels to his name and has written for a variety of Christian and secular periodicals.  All this writing experience comes to use in his first mystery novel with a very complex plot, multi-issue characters and an amazing climax scene when the mystery is solved.

The basic premise? 

Reed Stubblefield, a "sort of" Presbyterian (in other words, he went to the Presbyterian church when he was younger, but no longer believes in much of anything) and Artistotelian scholar heads to a small town in Illinois to recuperate from a gunshot wound which has left him with a shattered hip and the need for a cane, which he calls "Citizen Cane".  To further exacerbate Reed's health issues, his wife died of cancer two years earlier and so he has episodes of depression and grief.  On strong pain medications and anti-depressants, Reed is easily disoriented and his almost-50-year-old body is in pretty bad shape.  His older brother lends him a cabin in the Illinois woods in a small town where there is a priest who allegedly bears the signs of the stigmata -- the five wounds of Jesus -- and is credited with miraculous healings.  Reed knows nothing about the "healing Padre" and ends up limping into a hornet's nest of issues in this small town.

The writing is taut and well-researched, with appropriate quotes from Aristotle scattered throughout, tons of medical information, and well-defined characters.  The supporting cast of characters span the spectrum from heretical charlatans to well-meaning cynics to good Catholics trying to understand the events occuring in their little town. 

Desjarlais obviously spent much time and effort to build a mystery around the premise (stated by Fr. Ray Boudreau, the healing padre): 
There are no coincidences, Mr. Stubblefield.  Conincidences are just God's way of remaining anonymous. (pg 41)
That quote really sums up all that occurs in this many-threaded plot.  A plot that at times seems completely disjointed, until I turned the page and it came together again. 

I have a couple of small quibbles, though: Reed knows too many of the technical liturgical symbols, items, and traditions of the Catholic Church -- seemed far-fetched for a self-described "sort of Presbyterian".  I also thought the author tried too hard to include a budding romance; it just didn't read naturally.  Also, the text of the "newspaper" articles quoted in the book read like creative writing rather than fact-based (and usually quite terse) journalism.

The quibbles aside, I'd recommend this book for adults, especially those who like a good, fair mystery with lots of red herrings, plot twists, and side issues.  Bleeder is a mystery that plays fair with the reader by hiding-in-plain-sight the clues that lead to the solution.  I particularly love the last page ... wonderful!  Well-done, Mr. Desjarlais.

* * *
This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Bleeder.

Desjarlais, John -- Bleeder: A miracle? Or bloody murder?. A Chisel and Cross Book (Sophia Institute Press) - Manchester, NH.  2009.  ISBN:  978-1933-184-562.  paperback (261 pages).

No comments:

Post a Comment