A priest hopes to prove that his friend’s alleged suicide was actually murder by investigating clues his friend left behind in Barrett’s (A Mouse’s First Christmas, 2012) thriller.
Santiago Torres, a Jesuit priest and headmaster at Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C., is understandably shocked that his close friend, the Rev. Jasper Willoughs, has died, but he’s also adamant that Jasper didn’t jump to his death. Soon, he gets a FedEx package that includes a coded message signed by the Odd Fellows Society, Jasper’s secret club of history and trivia nerds. The clue leads Santiago to buried documents linking Jasper’s now-missing thesis to the Stewards, a covert organization in Georgetown. He believes that its members killed Jasper for something that he’d uncovered. He tracks down and publicly confronts a Steward, who later turns up dead in a suspicious fall. Local cops aren’t much help, but neither is Santiago’s FBI agent half brother, Nico, thanks to their rocky personal relationship. Meanwhile, trouble is brewing at the school as Santiago’s attempt to counteract racial segregation among the students backfires; when he encourages black and white students to sit together, the media says that he’s “forcibly desegregating” the institution. Further Odd Fellows clues cause him to dig into a 50-year-old murder, and he’s soon a target of the enigmatic Stewards himself. Later, when he questions his calling as a priest, it ignites a possible romance with his platonic pal Abby—and puts her in danger as well. Overall, this tale is exuberant and entertaining. However, readers may have difficulty buying into its premise. At one point, for example, Santiago tells Abby that “Jasper left nothing to chance,” but that contradicts his earlier claim that at least one clue was solved by “dumb luck.” The book has plenty of suspense, however, due in part to the villains’ anonymity; several nameless men are identified merely as “the Steward,” giving readers the impression that they’re everywhere. The outrage over Santiago’s presumed desegregation policy connects to the main plot, as the Stewards are likely responsible for the story going viral. But the situation’s real-world implications are the book’s strongest point, as even a noble stance against a seemingly racist idea sparks community indignation.
A scavenger hunt featuring a Jesuit with gumshoe resolve, whose personal conflicts make him refreshingly human.