A journalist investigates a decades-old accusation in this novel.
“Great-aunt Milly shot a priest” begins Brunjes’ (Write Around Whidbey, 2016) tale, and Maggie Callahan, who has heard this family remark all her life, is determined to see if there is any truth to it. Milly Miller was among many who were forced from their land and livelihood when the Grand Coulee Dam was built in the 1930s in Washington state. Off goes Maggie, a journalist, to search the parish records in Grand Coulee and then the diocesan records in Spokane. Bishop Davis starts stonewalling her, but she finds an ally in Father Matthew Brannigan, the young pastor of St. Francis parish in Grand Coulee. Father Matthew in turn has a friend in old Father Francesco in Spokane. They begin digging and start playing almost a cat-and-mouse game with Bishop Davis. Clearly the bishop is hiding something; then there is that secret archive storeroom—quite Gothic, really. In the midst of this, Maggie is called to report on a forest fire west of Grand Coulee. She does herself proud (she is search-and-rescue and EMT trained), saving a lost 6-year-old and a wayward horse. There is also much discussion with Father Matthew and Father Francesco about priestly celibacy (yes, readers can see where this is going). Finally she and Father Matthew track down an old, frail priest who was involved not with Milly but with her sister Evangeline, Maggie’s grandmother. Brunjes spins her story effectively; the chapters are short and keep things moving. But the portrayal of Bishop Davis is a bit much. He never simply “says.” Instead, he hisses, thunders, growls, sputters, and roars. He does have a lot to lose, so the near caricature is understandable. Nevertheless, the secret that drives the narrative is deftly handled. The author milks the reveal for all its worth, and this reader took breaks between later chapters to savor the suspense. Tales about the Roman Catholic Church—its traditions, its enigmas, its moral stances, and the lives of its clergy—have always fascinated readers, and Brunjes makes a lively contribution to this category.
A diverting and intriguing family mystery involving a priest.