Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Soul Reader By Gerard D. Webster: A Review

The Soul Reader: A Novel of Suspense
The Soul Reader has a name.  No it’s not simply the name of the book but also the description of the protagonist, Ward McNulty, who has the power (but only in sufficient light) to discern a person’s spiritual state.  Like any good hero, however, he fails to recognize his own failings. . . until the middle of the book.

This novel begins as a perilous adventure to discover the mastermind behind a series of murders.  McNulty, a journalist, has hit bottom: jobless, homeless, and crippled, when his erstwhile girlfriend, Carrie, hands him a book deal partnership where his investigative journalism skills come to the fore in their quest to expose the mastermind behind the murders of members of a large commercial fraud, including the murder of McNulty’s father.  The story unfolds with the involvement of a retired police detective, a member of the FBI, a Colombian saint, and an Italian businessman.  And let’s not forget to throw in the assassin with no identity other than “Culebra,” until the middle of the book.

Yes, it’s the middle of the book where the loose ends start to be tied while the novel falls apart.  First, let me state that if you are a traditional Roman Catholic, this novel may enthrall you.  But for other readers, it is a mess.  Disturbing news reports of McNulty’s demise cause McNulty’s mother and wannabe girlfriend to sit together and recite the rosary.  It calms them. Then McNulty, in the midst of danger, starts to say the hours, decades, or centuries. I’m not sure which, because I have no idea what any of it means.  To top it all off, I find my first textual error: a misspelled word.

You might think I am anti-Roman Catholic.  I’ll leave that to your perception.  I thoroughly enjoyed and recommended a novel where the lead character was a Roman Catholic “sister,”  and have great respect for other Roman Catholic authors including Flannery O’Connor, J.R.R. Tolkien, Malcolm Muggeridge, Walker Percy, Henri Nouwen, G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, and Thomas Merton.  What made “The Passion of Mary-Margaret,” a contemporary Roman Catholic novel, readable, was the simple and clear explanations of Roman Catholicisms.  And that is where The Soul Reader completely fails.

And now I must digress.  The two women find comfort in repeating “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”  They repeat it over and over.  I have been to Roman Catholic funerals and seen and heard this.  Why not pray scripture?  Perhaps one of the Psalms?  From my perspective, reciting those words over and over is no different from reciting any word or words for meditation reasons.  Whether the word be Om or Jesus or Holy Mary, such repetition may be designed only to clear the mind for meditation.   If a Christian is in distress, as I believed these women were, why wouldn’t they call on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith?  Why wouldn’t they tell him how they feel?  Why wouldn’t they use an appropriate Psalm?  I often pray Psalm 121 or Psalm 139 in my distress.   One of the women says that she thinks of Psalm 61 while she is reciting the rosary, but that’s as far as it goes.  The Psalms are all directed to God in joy or distress or thanksgiving.  It seems to me, that if we’re calling on God is our distress, we’re going to want to directly entreat God as did our examples in the Bible,  and not call on the mother of Jesus, a practice nowhere mentioned in the Bible.   

But, digression aside, let’s return to the text.  It is in the center of the novel where I became aware of Culebra’s identity before any of the novel’s characters knew his identity, and where I began to see the secret behind the Italian businessman.  At this point, I wondered if I even wanted to read through to the end.  I have read so many bad novels by Christian authors in the past year; I would love to be proven wrong about a book that started with so much promise.

Did it prove me wrong in the end?  Partially.  There were a couple of twists I hadn’t anticipated.  There were also a couple of misspelled words, bad placement of the word “only,” one word used for its opposite meaning, and an office pulled out of thin air.  I was also irritated by the 28 times the author used the word “feature” instead of “face” or spiritual “state” or “condition.”  The author used the word “basically” three times in a single paragraph.  He used the word animal magnetism only once but once is too often in any writing.  I also found problems with simile and comparison.  Perhaps I am too literal, but does this work on any level? 

. . . as insensitive to the feelings of others as a buzzard would be to the feelings of roadkill.

Or how about this comparison?

Mercy was more foreign than Mercury. . .

No, there was no science fiction or space travel in this novel and no consideration of the night sky.

This Soul Reader was a good start for this author.  With a good editor, he could lose the middle and the very end and add some real passion and emotion rather than a “chaste kiss,” He might then have a book full of exciting moments.  As the book stands, however, only a Roman Catholic reader might truly enjoy it. 

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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