Written by Michael Hogan – If you love a comfortable murder-detection-solution book, then look away now. Oh, yes, there’s one other thing. Are you a devout Roman Catholic? Once again, you may wish to revisit something more warmly reassuring, like a Father Brown story, or one of the Cadfael books. Hogan has the Church of Rome in his sights here, and he doesn’t take his finger off the trigger until there is no-one left standing. He sprays Day-Glo paint all over the gossamer threads linking Massachusetts Catholicism, child abuse and political crime. What shines out may not be pretty, but it is stark and revealing.
Dennis Wertz is an oddball who appears to have little or no staying power. A reformed alcoholic, he has dabbled in high level physics, low level writing, unrequited love, and the dubious lure of St Ignatius Loyola. He has failed to stay the course with any of these, and finds himself washed up and cast adrift in the suburbs of Boston. With the help of an elderly benefactor, he finds himself appointed to tutor the reclusive and ‘different’ daughter of Ned Garritty, a highly placed Catholic lawyer, with political ambitions. Dennis discovers that Garrity’s main expertise is in defending priests who have been accused of inappropriate conduct with boys and young men.
Dennis moves to the palatial Garrity compound and discovers, amongst other things, a replica of The Sistine Chapel, a mysteriously invisible student, a brittle marriage and a trail of deceit and corruption. He finds that so many things around him simply do not add up, and he starts to ask questions. Because of his lowly status in the household he is largely ignored by the main players, but when they realise that they have underestimated him, Dennis is forced into action to safeguard himself and those he thinks are his friends.
Then, a gala evening of celebration and self-congratulation for Ned Garrity and his friends in high places goes wrong in the most terrifying of circumstances. By this time, Dennis has been sidelined from the Garrity circle but he is slowly putting together the pieces of a terrible jigsaw which involves sexual abuse, legal chicanery and child murder.
Dennis Werz is a serial failure, at least in the eyes of those for whom he works, but he is smarter than any of them, and although Good wins a battle over Evil at the end of this book, we are left with the impression that the war has only just begun. Sometimes it seems that his passiveness will overwhelm him and those close to him, but finally Dennis stands his ground and fights his corner.
Sistine is edgy, lyrical, dark and sometimes downright peculiar. The shift from straight narrative to what is going through various people’s minds is sometimes unnerving and not always easy to follow. The long philosophical passages and pages of art history may not be to everyone’s taste, but after a while it becomes clear what Hogan is doing with his complex and innovative story structure. I judge this to be a brilliant book by a fine writer, and I would urge anyone with a taste for the unusual in crime fiction to read it and persevere.
Strangely, the publisher hasn’t made it available on Amazon or iTunes in the UK, but you can order an epub version here. There are also Amazon and iTunes links for US readers.
The Rogue Reader
CFL Rating: 5 Stars