C.S. Farrelly’s THE SHEPHERD’S CALCULUS uses several hot-button issues involving the Catholic Church to weave an intriguing mystery. This is both a story that is “ripped from today’s headlines”, as well as a look back at how the past continues to haunt the present. The book also sounds the alarm on the church’s involvement in politics, and shows effectively how such a large religious institution can devolve into just another giant corporation, subject to greed, corruption, and misuse of power.
Journalist Peter Merrick sets out to write the obituary of a priest he once admired, and quickly finds himself wondering if that priest was a pedophile, or if the man was murdered for his knowledge of the scandal. Or was his death something else? Along the way, Peter teams up with a young political staffer, Ally, who’s working on a presidential campaign and suffering her own disillusionment with regard to the Catholic hierarchy and politics in general. With the presidency at stake and enormous payouts possible from the church’s coffers for past crimes, Peter and Ally discover just how strong (and expensive) their faith’s moral authority really is.
As compelling as the story is, it takes a while to find sold ground, mostly due to the uncertainty about who is the main character and which is the main story-line. The book eventually settles in, then comes alive when Peter interviews a victim of abuse, a passage that is riveting, heartfelt, real and moving. This part of the story takes its time, sticks to the point and truly pays off emotionally. The rest of the book doesn’t manage to dig that deeply and the choice of characters to feature (or not) sometimes seems a little odd. The ending also depends a bit too much on coincidence, though it forcefully explores the relative guilt of the “sin of omission” versus active evil, one of the central themes of the book.
The book’s heart is definitely in the right place and the characters are smart, pleasant, and interesting. The prose is nicely written, too—an enjoyable read. You certainly don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate THE SHEPHERD’S CALCULUS, but if you are, or interested in the issues of the church, or the separation of Church and State, this novel delivers nicely.
~Dave Eisenstark for IndieReader