A complicated mystery that explores whether a murdered priest deserves sainthood for his work in the Philippines.
An Anglican himself, Philip Seward is hired to learn about the life of Father Julian Tremayne, whose former parishioners petition the Catholic Church to declare him a saint. One of their claims is that he levitated during Mass, which the church cares about but which is tough for Philip to verify 30 years after the fact. Also, a saint “has to be full of humanity and not just of God.” In the process of his investigation, Philip discovers a great deal about Philippine culture, especially among the downtrodden. His research brings him into contact with prostitutes, male strippers and others whose acquaintance may not immediately bring God to mind. He meets poor people who go hungry when city refuse collections stop, because there's no garbage to pick through. This is a sometimes-dark story with an interesting structure, alternating between Philip’s point of view and long, personal letters Julian wrote to his parents and brother. So is Julian worthy of sainthood, of being one of the “rungs on the ladder to God”? Maybe so, if the local bishop can have Julian “sanitized as well as sanctified.” Or maybe not, if Julian is seen as “first and foremost a liberator.” Once the Marcos family is through exploiting their citizens, along comes Corazon Aquino, who apparently is little better. So where do “decent Christians” of the Philippines go? “Into the arms of the Communists.” Religion provides the framework of this story about the search for social justice. Perhaps the best of many good lines is: “To listen to one’s conscience is to hear the authentic voice of God.”
Don’t expect feel-good, old-time religion here, but you can expect a satisfying storyline in this thoughtful, well-written novel.