A journalist turns detective in the case of his dead uncle, murdered during the unrest of the Dominican revolution.
MacKinnon (co-author, Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally, 2007) delivers a deeply personal investigation into the death of his uncle, Arthur MacKinnon. Best known as “Padre Arturo,” but “Father Art” to the author, the young Catholic priest disappeared into the wilds of the Dominican Republic in 1960 to preach his faith. Five years later, a young soldier named Odulio de los Santos Castillo walked into the town of Monte Plata with an improbable story of shooting the 32-year-old missionary, a second lieutenant named Evangelista Martínez and a constable, Ramón Restituyo, in what was ruled a regrettable accident. Forty years later, the author traveled to this tumultuous country to reconcile the slim truths and embellished myths of his uncle’s murder. Despite a few hastily written diary entries, Padre Arturo never fully emerges in the story, but in tracking down the natives that loved him, MacKinnon says much about the echoes of life and death. The voices that are present in the narrative—ribald priests, unwavering nuns, fearful bureaucrats and enigmatic, paranoid generals—are vivid and reveal the book’s dichotomous nature. Those who knew the victim are elegant in voicing their obvious affection for Arthur and those puppeteers who know more than they admit expose the menacing madness of the republic’s early days. As MacKinnon travels from shrine to graveyard to conduct interviews, the poetry of tragedy and an absurd humor about a crime long past come together to reveal a fascinating history. The author’s conclusions are speculative at best—“It must have happened something like that,” he writes toward the end—but his journey toward some kind of truth is a moving one.
MacKinnon is a fine storyteller and his crisp, imaginative writing is well-suited to this somewhat unorthodox detective story enmeshed in the secret history of the country’s volatile politics.