In Keenan’s (The Origin and Applicability of Fighter Tactics, 1986) epic tale, a retired fighter pilot and football star, now an accomplished actor, returns to the town of his youth to seek answers and perhaps right wrongs of the past. But he’d better hurry: he only has one day to live.
Bishop Healey is having the worst day of his life. His balancing of faith and malevolence is challenged when boyhood friend Jack Cochran arrives and demands absolution years after killing his abusive father, a crime for which another man was punished. After meeting with Healey, Cochran undergoes life-threatening surgery and begins to tie up loose ends, finding enough rope to hang himself as well as a few others. As the secrets of numerous misplaced patrimonies are revealed and church abuses described, it soon becomes clear why others in search of justice or revenge also want an audience with his eminence. Healey knows where the bodies are buried and who put them there. In Keenan’s novel, the Catholic Church is taken to task on many accounts, but the flogging is never a penance for the reader. Moral temptations and mitigating arguments are as complicated as anything in John Gregory Dunne’s True Confessions, and while this book stretches for the scope of Michener with flashbacks and back story, Keenan masterfully keeps the focus on men and women under stress. Readers see Cochran’s rough and tumble past and his career in Vietnam and how those events influenced him; unfortunately, we seeing nothing of his career as an award-winning actor, a garden that could have provided a rich harvest of iniquity. The narrative relies almost entirely on dialogue, which speeds exposition but does little to allow the world to be seen through the eyes of its characters.
A complicated yet convincing story of good and evil that keeps the preaching to a minimum, the suspense to the extreme.