Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Book Review: Bleeder

Having read a series of apologetics material, heady theology and most recently, teen fiction, I was happy to settle in with a good mystery. I began reading Bleeder the moment I cut open the packaging on my trip from the mailbox. The subject matter may seem a bit gory to some, but I assure you that even the most sensitive person will not be offended. The blurb on the back cover reads as follows:
A stigmatic priest bleeds
to death on Good Friday
in front of horrified

A miracle? Or a
bloody murder?

Aristotle professor
Reed Stubblefield
needs to know.

After all, police say
he's the prime suspect.

Quite a catchy glimpse of the story and it certainly prompts an interested party to dive into the book. The web becomes more complex than the blurb lets on, but the storyline never leaves the reader confused. Author, John Desjarlais seems to be heeding the literary mantra, "Write what you know" as he provides a college professor protagonist that teaches writing - as is his profession as well. Though the plot is outstanding and the book ends with all of the loose ends neatly tied, I finished feeling a bit deflated. The book was overrun with 'MacGuffins', motivating plot-prodders, that really end up serving no purpose to the story. I understand the intent, as with a mystery, one must provide enough distractions so that the resolution is difficult to achieve. In my opinion, the distractions were too numerous and unnecessary.

I was delaying this review because I did not want to tear apart the hard work of another which was, overall, a good book. Mr. Desjarlais has pulled together an intriguing story with a very diverse group of characters and stories within the story. We learn about the double-whammy of personal tragedies to strike Reed Stubblefield and his struggles which have been a direct result. The reader is introduced to Casey, a young female newspaper reporter with an undertone of potential romantic interest in Reed. There is a strong Mexican presence, many of whom follow Fr. Ray, the priest who attracts a great deal of followers seeking his alleged healing powers. Reed's brother, Dan, is a beneficiary of Fr. Ray's gift and we see Reed call into question his own faith (self-described as a Presbyterian... sort of). With Fr. Ray's death during the Good Friday service, Reed quickly emerges as a prime suspect to nearly everyone - and a potential victim himself if he is not careful.

Never to be explained is the apparent vast knowledge of Catholicism by a supposed Presbyterian with little interest in matters of faith. The frequent references to Reed's health and the effects of the medications on him was, at times, redundant. It was made clear early in the story that his medication had dangerous side-effects when mixed with certain foods and often left him light-headed, yet throughout the story, the same explanations continued to emerge. Flashbacks to Reed spending time with a very sick wife were overused. It lent an insight into Reed's state of mind and his personal struggles, but in a mystery novel, the oft repeated use was unnecessary.

In summary, and probably much to your surprise, I would recommend this book. If you like a good plot line that will keep you guessing until the end, this is a book you would enjoy. A best seller? I'm not so sure. A good fall read while nestled next to a fire with a cup of coffee? Yes! And a note to Mr. Desjarlais: I know I'm not much of a writer and it is clear that you are much more talented. I appreciate good fiction without all of the sexual garbage so prevalent in the world of fiction today. Your storyline was outstanding and would make an excellent film. I just think elements could have been trimmed from the manuscript and the book would have worked better. I look forward to reading more of your books in the future.


Bleeder is available at The Catholic Company. 272 pages, softcover and $14.95.

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