THE MARTYRING by Thomas Sullivan


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 From the author of The Phases of Harry Moon (1988) and the stylish Born Burning (1989): a densely written and conceived suspense novel that's too earnest and too rich for a simple pursuit of the genre's standard gore and horror. Here, the Hauptmanns themselves are the MacGuffin, with their family ghosts dating back to the earliest days of Christianity. When the elderly Martin Hauptmann dies in Padobar, Florida, his East German nephew, Kurt Nehmer, is summoned in order to learn--and help in--Martin's stained-glass business. The perfect Hauptmanns have made stained glass for many centuries, and, it seems, their stained glass holds a mystical clan secret. Also arriving in Florida is Detlef Hauptmann, Martin's drunken brother, who has just lost one son while steeplejacking and who brings a second son with him. Detlef once took Kurt Nehmer to Chartres to show him what ``real'' stained glass was like (as opposed to the merely narrow, slitted window, say). Uncle Detlef sobers, but the county finds itself mired in strange deaths, no two alike. At the same time, as Uncle Detlef loses his drunkard's pallor, his hair darkens, and his eyes even take on a youthful sparkle. Kurt finds himself falling for his cousin, Ute Hauptmann--but the family's real focus of interest settles on whether or not Kurt has been having any ``dreams'' (read mystical visions) about the family's early centuries. For only when his unconsciousness erupts with the ``treasures'' of the ages-old Hauptmann family will Kurt find pride of place as a real Hauptmann and be ready for his ``second confirmation'' or his initiation into the full Hauptmannian mystery. Meanwhile, a detective gathering clues about all the recent deaths finds that each of them corresponds to the demise either of the Four Evangelists or of other Christian martyrs, whose figures are represented in glass in a Hauptmann chapel now being upgraded for God by Uncle Detlef. . . . Sullivan's most sustained and strongest yet, with the plus of being well stocked with stained-glass lore.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-86361-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Forge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1997