A Brief Review of
Chant of Death: A Father Malachi Mystery.
Reviewed by Douglas Connelly.
The setting for this intriguing little mystery is a fictional Benedictine Abbey in southern Louisiana. The monks, under the direction of a talented (and egotistical) choirmaster, have produced a best-selling CD of religious chant. Father Malachi, the spiritual-minded abbot, is doing his best to keep the priorities of the Abbey and its inhabitants focused on their true mission, while notoriety and media coverage and financial profits try to pull the monks in other directions. It’s not long until events turn murderous and Father Malachi’s abilities are put to their supreme test.
The story is well-told and has its moments of captivating intensity, but I finished the book with three complaints. First, the authors attempt to weave into the story a discussion of almost every issue facing the contemporary Roman Catholic Church. Pedophilia, celibate clergy, homosexuality, using church money to pay claims against abusive priests, bishops who cover up such crimes, and the transformation of worship in a post-modern culture – all these issues get some level of exposure in a 150-page mystery novel! Some of the issues are directly relevant to the story, but often the authors become a little heavy-handed in directing the story or the dialogue to get to the issues. I felt a little “preached to” at times.
The second complaint is purely personal. The authors use the abbreviation “Fr.” all through the book, even in dialogue, to refer to the various “Fathers” in the Abbey. It’s like reading a medical mystery in which all the doctors call each other “Dr.” instead of “Doctor.” Sometimes the authors allow “Father” to slip in or (better yet) drop the title altogether, but most of the time the abbreviation dots the page.
My last complaint is the way the mystery ends. Without spoiling it (I hope), the end is a “monster in the closet” type ending. While the authors give us plenty of suspects and motives for murder through the story (one of the book’s great charms), the culprit pops up unexpectedly at the end. No reader will ever figure out beforehand who did it.
In spite of these negatives, the story is a good read. You learn a lot about the Rule of Saint Benedict and about plain-song chant. Father Malachi is an interesting but fragile hero, struggling with his own memories and insecurities. The book has a deranged monk, a practitioner of voodoo, a pompous bishop, and plenty of secrets. You will like the flirtatious female detective and be creeped out by the cleaning lady. If you are looking for an out-of-the-ordinary mystery, you won’t be disappointed with Chant.
Douglas Connelly is a pastor, author, and lover of mysteries.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
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