A novel about a rough-and-tumble priest and his quest for justice, from debut author Halleck.
Father Theo Riley isn’t your average priest. Having survived a difficult childhood, time as a boxing champion and the Korean War, he’s tough inside and out. That’s not to say he’s untroubled. In the small coastal town of Manzanita, Oregon, he’s burdened by memories of war, a lost love and the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church, taking to regular bouts of drinking and occasional periods of despair—“I’m good for nothing but bein’ a punchin’ bag.” Nevertheless, though his parish is small, he does all he can for the community. For instance, after confronting a man guilty of beating his family, Theo is physically beaten himself; he gets the man sentenced to jail but hardly realizes the difficulty he is sowing. In jail, the man strikes up a friendship with a seedy, pseudo-religious figure named Genghis. After taking the man under his wing, Genghis hatches a plot that, he imagines, will be too much for Theo to handle. Can Theo stop such a diabolical figure while confronting the many demons of his own? While creating a truly burdened figure, the novel is heavy on the many troubles in Theo’s past, not the least of which involves trying to save orphans in Korea: “The faces of the orphans passed through me again; an eternal, far-reaching shadow.” Likewise, Genghis’ despicable past proves to be one of morbid interest. Many characters in between, however, often fall to stereotypes. From trusty quarterback-turned-sheriff Bud to the all-wise Native American Solomon (“Pictures of [Solomon] in his headdress and suede clothing were proud and striking—it was another world”), the supporting characters can be unimaginative. Readers intrigued by a rugged Oregon town and its warrior priest may not mind as Theo confronts his many enemies and confides in his many friends.
A worthwhile read for those interested in finding out how a man with a mind full of bad memories can serve both God and man in his quest for redemption.