The Endless Knot by William L. Biersach.
Recommended to me during my annual hunt for books to put on my book club's reading list, and in some long-forgotten book review I had read, I decided to jump in when it arrived from Amazon. (Let's not discuss my Amazon addiction, OK? It rivals my 1/2 Price Books addiction. And let's remember the entry below about telling ourselves no.)
First, a few quibbles. #1, my book fell apart! The book is published by a press called Tumblar House, and they must be a start up or very tiny press, leading to low quality printing and binding. This isn't the author's fault, and I don't blame him for it, but it is frustrating to only be halfway through the book and have to hold it together because pages are beginning to come loose from the binding. I paid more than $15 for the paperback, and that's disappointing.
#2, if you read this book, and you are not a "traditional" Catholic, be ready for the persistent undercurrent of "the only GOOD Catholics are Trad Catholics." While Mr. Biersach doesn't paint traddies as angelic beings (and kudos to him for that!), he paints NO other Catholic as a good guy AT ALL. At one point in the book (and I nearly gave up on it here), Fr. Baptist's sidekick Martin Feeney has threatened to quit and go to some other parish. Fr. Baptist tells him basically, well, you might be happy there. It is a Novus Ordo parish, fairly conservative, blah, blah, blah. But it just happens to be the parish where they are allowing a famous witch to speak in the parish hall. Get it? Even the CONSERVATIVE parishes are hotbeds of evil. Only the traddie St. Philomena's is a good place.
Not being a "traditional" Catholic, I found this offensive. But I mushed on to finish the book.
Past the quibbles, I must say that I enjoyed the book while I was reading it. It has an engaging hero-sleuth, Fr. John Baptist, who is a retired cop turned priest. His sidekick (his Dr. Watson? his Archie?) is Martin Feeney, gardener for St. Philomena's. The bishops of Los Angeles are being killed off in spectacular ways, and the Archbishop calls upon Fr. Baptist to help solve the case before mayhem ensues.
Mystery novels are difficult to review, because there is so much that one can't say about them without ruining them for others who might want to read them. Let's just say that the mystery involves witchcraft, the occult, feminism and nuns gone wrong. In fact, there's almost too MUCH stuff in the novel. I think it would have benefitted from a little more stringent editing.
I liked the characters of Fr. Baptist and Martin Feeney very much. It was refreshing to read a book that assumed that evil was very, very real--and not always unattractive. The humor was often sly, and unexpected. I laughed out loud several times. And the Knights Tumblar--a group of young men who get together to drink, read, talk, sing and fight for the Church was utterly charming.
Just got back from checking the reviews on Amazon.com. They were universally five-star reviews. But there were only 5 or 6 of them. What that reinforces is my idea is that this is a good niche mystery. If you're a traddie, or have traddie leanings, this is probably your cup of tea, with cream and sugar.