If you told me about a mystery story containing a supernatural element which is essentially syncretistic, and in which the main character is possibly demon-possessed during the climax, I’d probably tell you “Not my style. I’ll pass.”
But I got Norman Green’s Shadow of a Thief through an Amazon Prime deal, and I’m hoarding my pennies these days, and the writing was extremely good. So I stayed with it. And you know what? I’m a fan now.
Saul Fowler used to be a burglar, both free-lance and under contract to one of those shadowy US government agencies that so heavily populate fiction. But he succumbed to drugs and alcohol. Then he got clean through Narcotics Anonymous and fled to the northern tip of Maine, where he replaced his old addictions with a new one, to fishing. For his future he has no plans.
Then he’s approached by a man from his past – Reverend McClendon, who was his stepfather, and possibly his natural father. McClendon was the closest thing to a father figure Saul ever had, and he taught him his trade – the confidence game. But he’s a TV preacher now and – he claims – he’s turned his life around. He genuinely believes, he says, in Christianity (though his theology appears pretty pathetic).
He had (he says) a daughter, who might have been Saul’s half-sister. She has been cruelly murdered, and McClendon thinks Saul has the skills to look more deeply into the mystery than the cops have. They blame it on gang warfare (the girl was Chinese-American).
Saul agrees, not entirely sure why. But he has nothing better to do, and maybe he owes McClendon something.
His investigation will take him back home to New York, into the worlds of gangs, prostitution, the NYPD, and urban voodoo.
Theologically, I could criticize this book quite a lot (though I noticed there was no Christian-bashing). But as a story, it worked magnificently. Norman Green is as good a writer as I’ve come across in years – I’m amazed I’d never heard of him before. His prose is elegant, his characters fascinating, his dialogue snappy, his plotting riveting. My interest never once flagged as I read.
I highly recommend Shadow of a Thief, if you can handle some heterodoxy in a fictional setting. Cautions for language and violence.