A tight tale about forces of light and darkness set in motion by willing, if duped, characters.
Writing with a sure hand, Maffei quickly introduces readers to a cast of strong characters: author Claire, whose atheistic reputation rests more on emotional motivations than doctrinal; Dan, an ex-priest with a heavy spiritual load; Dominic, a guileless young gentleman of otherworldly presence, musical prodigality and celestial sweetness, and his virgin ex-nun mother Elizabeth, overwhelmed by her circumstance; and Cholmondeley, a latter-day Beelzebub, lecherous viper and possible alien, and his son Trevor, groomed as the antichrist. Playing with time, the author shapeshifts the story, feeding only so much to the reader about the fantastic happenings. For one, Dominic and Trevor may be clones, implanted by Cholmondeley in the (thus) virginal Elizabeth from DNA material gleaned from Jesus’ winding sheet. Further, Dominic and Trevor may soon be engaged in a showdown dance of spirituality versus depravity. Maffei is having some sophisticated fun here, keeping his story hand close to his chest while fashioning a thriller with zesty drama–but with his tongue not so surreptitiously in cheek, at least to the point of bringing doubt into the picture. He draws the characters in high relief–Cholmondeley in particular, is an exemplary sleazeball, but strangely lovable in his unbridled venality–so that all of their encounters are chromatic and momentous, or, in Elizabeth’s case, pious to the point of insipidness. A sense of magic cavorts in the background, and while skepticism holds firm (â€œthe power of reason bloomed full, dark, and funereal in her,” the miraculous possibilities in the air touch each player. When the story turns on secondary cast members it doesn’t feel a cheat, for Maffei has already captured them in bright miniature portraits. The end comes as a reckoning, a long-deferred accounting that turns the narrative on its head, not just wrapping things up but creating a fully realized tale.
A jazzy story with holding power that enjoyably shuffles religion, mad science, fierce hopes and cleverly quotidian revenge.