by One thumb up and one thumb down
I would have enjoyed this book more had I not read the quote on the back from The Santa Fe New Mexican, "For those who thrive on Jan Karon's Mitford novels." The protagonist in both is an Episcopalian Priest. The similarity stops about there. Yes, I'd say that's about the only commonality. But the comment would imply to me a hometown portrayal of American values and a rich depiction of the variety of personalities that makes life interesting. Those features are what makes the Mitford books stand out in the literary marketplace.
Another quote on the back, this from Sarah Graves, author of the Home Repair is Homicide mysteries, with which I'm unfamiliar "...Two smart quirky sleuths with a heart--and soul." The two quotes taken together gave the impression that the characters would be presenting some sort of morality. As I found out, they were. But the morality portrayed is not of the traditional Judeao-Christian bent.
For the one thumb up, the book is a pretty good murder mystery, nothing outstanding, but then, that's not usually the purpose in reading a murder mystery. The characters are mostly well developed, the plot has appropriate twists and turns, the settings are interesting and richly described.
An interesting departure from the typical murder mystery, is the sleuthing the primary gumshoes, Katherine and Tom, do. Although they are not primarily the ones who solve the mystery, they are instrumental in solving it, mostly through a series of coincidental incidents. Katherine and Tom spend their time unravelling the mysteries of the family line of the landowners where the murder took place. Everything of course falls together at the end, but I found this use of the sleuths an interesting twist.
The strong point is probably the author's use of time. The story-line unfolds in a non-linear manner and skips from one decade to another in a fashion exactly to my liking. I had to check back on people and places periodically, but not so much that it became frustrating. At two points, just when I thought I had lost all the connections completely, the author gave me a family tree to which I could refer. Some of the threads of story were only touched upon once early on and then left to the end. This device left me curious throughout as to how these strings were going to be woven in.
My disappointment with the book is based on my personal morality and my preference for reading books that either avoid moralizing completely or portray traditional moral lifestyles. This book seems to want to portray those things traditionally considered immoral, as sanctioned by those who are supposed to be the shepherds of the church.
The protagonist, the Reverend Kathryn Koerney, is an Episcopalian priest. Her cousin who has just died under mysterious circumstances was her best friend, and we find out was homosexual. This in itself is not important, nor was the gentleman's sexuality important to the story line, but the way it is portrayed is somewhat preachy and moralizing. I felt as though the whole reason for including it was as an opportunity to portray bigotry against the homosexual lifestyle.
Kathryn at one point in the book arranges to stay the night with a guy she's falling in love with, although because of the way the plot unravelled near the end, we're not told whether she kept that date.
From the beginning, it is clear that Tom, Kathryn's fellow sleuth and one of her parishioners is in love with her, but is himself married to another. At the end of the story, as a hooked line to the next book in the series, Tom is encouraged by a wise elder character to not give up on Kathryn. His final words of exhortation, "I seriously doubt that any man who does not have the balls to get out of a loveless marriage deserves Kathryn Korney."
All these moral points would not bother me as much in a different setting. But taken together and portrayed as they are, they seem designed to push the envelope. The idea of a pastor who accepts non-traditional values seems a bit contrived. At best, the effect does not make for pleasant diversionary reading. At worst, it just makes me plum mad. It seems deceitful and preachy. Especially when coupled with the endorsements the publishers chose to put on the back cover of the book.