Reviewed by Larry W. Chavis
Devastated by the loss of his wife to leukemia, partially crippled and traumatized by a school shooting, Aristotle scholar and professor Reed Stubblefield seeks the peace of his brother’s hunting cabin in downstate Illinois to recuperate and write a book on Aristotle. Arriving in rustic River Falls, though, he finds all the area camps and lodgings crowded with people - sick and injured people, who have come to see the local Catholic pastor, a priest who is said to bear the Stigmata, and to be a healer. In spite of his own evident antipathy to any involvement in what he considers to be pure superstition, Reed discovers that his brother has arranged matters so that Reed’s meeting with the priest is inevitable. What follows is a bit of subtle intellectual give-and-take between the two, until the shocking demise of Father Ray during Good Friday services, a death that may or may not be murder.
The book is published by an imprint that, in its own words, ” … seeks to restore man’s knowledge of eternal truth …” and Christian thought, specifically Catholic thought, does inform the book. Yet Desjarlais is able to have his characters address deeply human issues in a manner that is in no sense heavy-handed or preachy. The college professor finds a kindred scholarly spirit in Father Ray, and is able to build a relationship on that basis apart from any religious connections, though he is, perhaps, able to address the void that has existed within since his wife’s death from a new angle as a resulting of knowing the priest. In the end, there is no grand conversion … merely deeper thought and consideration, perhaps an openness that he hasn’t had before.
The mystery around which all the events revolve is twofold - is Father Ray a stigmatic and healer, and was his death murder? These two questions are kept before the reader as the plot develops, through a young reporter seeking her big break in the stories surrounding Father Ray. The plot resolves both questions in what I felt was a satisfactory manner, and in keeping with the atmosphere of the story.
While the book does have as background a Catholic motif, it tells a story that transcends any particular set of beliefs, and is a good mystery besides.
Copyright ©2010 Larry W. Chavis