In Flynn’s novel, the strange behavior of a 12-year-old boy mobilizes his whole town.
The short novel opens with a crisis in faith. In Saint Anthony’s parish in Gateway City, Mo., surly, big-for-his-age Billy Wagner has begun acting very strangely—barricading himself in his room, playing with knives, etc. His frantic parents have had no success talking to him, so they write a letter to the bishop of their diocese, wondering if an exorcism might be in order. The bishop passes the letter up the chain of command to the archbishop, an imperious man—“His parents raised The Archbishop to be The Archbishop,”; “his first word was pater”—in precarious health: “His bypasses had bypasses.” The archbishop is currently enraged by an incident that’s become known as “L’affaire Texting”: From the pulpit, he spotted a young person tapping a message on some sort of electronic device. “Was he a spy?” the Archbishop wondered. Now, he’s seeking a more direct confrontation with evil, so he tells Bishop Waller, who instructs Monsignor Wilhelm Krebs (dubbed “Krazy Krebs” because of an incident involving a boy apparently possessed by the evil spirit of a donkey) to investigate. Krebs orders associate pastor Father Leopold Mackenzie to visit the Wagners and report back, but Father Leo is less dogmatic (and, though gentle, more heroic) than his superiors; he wonders if there might be a nonsupernatural explanation for the boy’s behavior. He files a long report expressing his reservations, but it’s promptly buried by the diocese hierarchy. That’s followed by a frenetic, often hilarious story involving a Wiccan pole-dancing stripper named Eve, the “vision of loveliness” named Veronica Fields, a bungled attempt at intervention on Billy’s behalf and a high-profile trial. Throughout, Flynn maintains a wry but affectionate stance toward the Catholic Church that’s wonderfully reminiscent of the best of J.F. Powers. The one-liners are good for serious laughs, but the occasional swerves into emotion are just as affecting, and the revelations of church corruption in the climactic courtroom trial are expertly handled.
A fun, fascinating send-up of the modern Catholic Church.