In Siding Star (2012) and Peacekeeper (2013), Exeter-based DI Cecilia Cavaliere (her parents are Italian) looked into mysteries with supernatural elements, often receiving help from religious figures including Anglican priest Michael Aarons. Now married, Cecilia and Michael have a 3-year-old daughter, a dog and two cats, all comfortably ensconced in a sprawling Victorian rectory. In this third outing, Cecilia is called on to temporarily serve as detective chief inspector while police headquarters are being built for the huge, new United Nations Institute for Technological Experimentation and Development in Edgestow. (Similarities with C.S. Lewis and That Hideous Strength are intentional and acknowledged.) Though somewhat reluctant—the place gives her bad vibes, and she’ll be away for most of three months—Cecilia agrees. When the deaths of some illegal immigrants seem linked to U.N.I.T.E.D., Cecilia and DS Verity Jones head to ask questions at the enormous, heavily guarded steel-and-glass tower. They soon find themselves forced into playing a conscienceless egomaniac’s very dangerous and real computer game based on historical events in Cecilia’s family. As in his earlier volumes, Bryan (Listening to the Bible: The Art of Faithful Biblical Interpretation, 2013, etc.) confronts evil with good in an intelligent, satisfying way, even though the dice are somewhat loaded: For example, the supersmart villains haven’t considered GPS tracking; Cecilia has the advantage of historical knowledge in making her game choices; and supernatural in-game help arrives in the form of Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld, a Jesuit who died in 1635. As with his earlier work, Bryan offers a thoughtful view of faith in daily practice. Worrying about Cecilia, Michael realizes he must instead focus on his duties and commend her to God: “And wasn’t that, after all, the point of all the tough Ignatian spirituality that his guides…had been endeavoring to teach him over the years?” Indeed, tough spirituality is a hallmark of Bryan’s work.
Somewhat slight compared with earlier entries in the series, but another well-written, enjoyable mystery.