Cleansed by Fire by James R. Callan
James R. Callan
There’s nothing like a good cozy mystery.
CHURCHES ARE BURNING and a man is murdered, plunging a small Texas town into a state of fear. Father Frank DeLuca, pastor of Prince of Peace Church, is thrust into an impossible dilemma when he hears that another church will be burned. But the disturbing information comes to him via the confessional, and church law forbids him from telling anyone—even the police.
He doesn’t know which church, when, or by whom. Still, he can’t sit idly by, and no law prevents him from looking into the matter himself. The crimes have set the town’s residents on edge, fraying the bonds of trust. Is the mysterious newcomer with ties to the drug scene involved? What about the man who says maybe the churches deserved to burn? Or the school drop-out into alcohol and drugs who attacks the priest with a knife?
Countering this are a young widow whose mission is to make others shine, and a youth choir determined to help those whose churches have been destroyed by the arsonist.
Father Frank’s investigation leads him dangerously close to the local drug scene and he soon discovers the danger has come to him. Can he save his own church? Can he save his own life?
From the Author:
A few years ago, there were several church fires in east Texas. The police eventually caught the two men responsible, but no motive ever came out except, “Could we get away with it.”
I began to wonder what could a motive be for burning several churches. Eventually, Cleansed by Fire emerged. And because church arsons seemed horrific, I added in some good works by the teenagers of the community to balance the arsons. In the end, it was a very rewarding book to write
Review by John Brantingham:
Writing from a priest’s point of view is difficult. Most people do so badly. So often, the writer descends into cliché. Priests in literature are often either so good that they are uninteresting or so bad that they are unbelievable. A few people have written priests well.
Graham Greene wrote priests well. Then again, he wrote everything well.
Gerald Locklin wrote priests well.
And James R. Callan writes priests well in his novel Cleansed by Fire.
Father Frank is Callan’s protagonist. He’s a priest having to deal with the new realities of a small town. Corrupting influences are moving in and trying to destroy the peace that he’s built with his parishioners. Kids are being seduced by drugs. The adults of his parish don’t believe in themselves. Worst of all, someone is burning down the local Baptist churches. It’s up to Father Frank to go out and stop the destruction of his small community.
You don’t have to be a Catholic to like this novel because Callan’s protagonist is clearly and fully written. Unlike so many badly written priests, Father Frank is a real person with real faults. He struggles with his faith and doubts.
When someone pushes him, he wants to fight, and one of the levels of tension in this well-written book is Father Frank’s personal struggle to remain faithful to the principles that he loves. It isn’t easy for him, and that makes the book so interesting to read. One of the themes I really get tired of is priests struggling with sexual identity. That’s not Father Frank’s problem. He struggles with the violence of his nature, and we see him running headlong into dangerous situations again and again only to arrive unsure of what to do.
I really enjoyed Cleansed by Fire, and I’m glad it’s part of a series. I want to watch Father Frank grow as all great characters do.