In this debut novel partially inspired by actual events, a dedicated Catholic priest from rural Texas discovers political and personal conflict in Guatemala.
Father Tom Devlik seeks to improve the spiritual and socioeconomic conditions affecting the residents of the small Guatemalan town of San Tomas. Replacing his friend and colleague, Father Sean Mulgrew, who died suddenly under mysterious circumstances, Father Tom slowly finds himself drawn into a web of intrigue and half-truths. At the same time, he struggles with problems of his own, namely a potential love interest and the memory of his disapproving father. In the center of this narrative terrain stands the luxurious mansion occupied by Gov. Sam Ramos—who tries to maintain stability in a volatile environment—and his captivating daughter, Lenora. The governor makes it clear he won’t tolerate flagrant political activism on the part of Father Tom, especially since the brutal memories of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war are still present. Petroff creates a well-paced narrative but also takes time to pause and provide vivid descriptions of the landscape, traditions and religious festivals in the region, such as Day of the Dead and Holy Week. However, he occasionally offers too heavy a dose of foreshadowing, so readers know what lies ahead: “Father had little time for thoughts other than religion but that would soon change.” While errors in punctuation and spelling (“Costa Rico”) represent a minor distraction, the lack of diacritical marks for Spanish words detracts from the story’s authenticity. As a result, the text is perhaps better suited to readers unfamiliar with the region and the language who could learn about the local culture without focusing on these flaws. In the end, the author purposely leaves some mysteries unsolved, so more should be on the way.
A respectable but unpolished first effort that successfully marries the mystery genre with politics, religion and culture.