BLEEDER, by John Desjarlais. Sophia Institute Press. 272 pp. $14.95
Reviewed by JEAN HEIMANN, freelance writer, retired educator, psychologist and oblate with the Community of St. John.
IT'S NOT OFTEN that you come across a book that captures your full attention on an emotional level, and challenges you intellectually and spiritually, too. Bleeder was such a book for me.
In Bleeder, we are introduced to Reed Stubblefield, a classics professor on sabbatical. He is recovering not only from the physical wounds of a gunshot accident in a school shooting, but also from the emotional wounds of his wife's recent death. He retreats to a rural Illinois cabin to write a book on Aristotle.
But the town of River Falls is filled with the ill and infirm—all seeking the healing touch of the town's new parish priest, reputed to be a stigmatic. Skeptical about religion since his wife's death from leukemia, Reed is reluctantly drawn into a friendship with the priest, Father Ray Boudreau, an amiable Aquinas scholar.
Then the priest collapses and bleeds to death on Good Friday in front of horrified parishioners. Is it a miracle or is it a bloody murder? Reed needs to know because the police say he is the prime suspect.
Once Reed is identified as the prime "person of interest" in the mysterious death, he seeks to discover the truth with the help of an attractive local reporter and Aristotle's logic.
In his third novel, author John Desjarlais presents the reader with an exciting and suspense-filled mystery that is difficult to put down. A gifted writer, Desjarlais captures the reader's attention from the very first page with his sharp imagery, gripping plot, vivid characters, amazing climax and satisfying conclusion.
Bleeder uses sharp imagery, which is descriptive yet concise. For example, Desjarlais writes: "Two squad cars blocked the street at both ends, their blue and red lights flashing like votives."
In this mystery written in the first person, Desjarlais introduces us to a variety of well-crafted and colorful characters as he works through clues and dead ends, casting suspicion on a number of people, challenging readers to ponder their motives and to try to guess "whodunit."
What makes Bleeder uniquely Catholic is that, in addition to the practical mystery contained in the plot, there is a mystery that Desjarlais delves into on a higher level—the spiritual level— which he explores through the suffering that Reed Stubblefield, Father Boudreau and other characters encounter. In Bleeder, Desjarlais contemplates the mystery of "undeserved suffering" from a Catholic point of view.
Bleeder is an exciting and thought-provoking Catholic mystery that I thoroughly enjoyed and one that I highly recommend for all adults.