PRECIOUS BLOOD Mass Market Paperback – Mar 1 1991
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Blessed be His most Precious Blood
- from the Divine Praises
Twenty years ago, six of the cool kids from Cathedral Girls' and Boys' High Schools - Kath Burke, Tom Dolan, Judy Eagan, Barry Field, Peg Morrissey, and Andy Walsh - let Cheryl Cass, the class pariah, into their private circle for a short time, ending on a disastrous June day still infamous in Colchester, New York with a mixture of LSD and a half-baked attempt at a Black Mass still known as the Black Rock Park incident, whose perpetrators were never caught. After that day, Cheryl dropped out of high school and left town, and the six old friends drifted apart.
This spring, however, Cheryl Cass has come back to her old hometown to refurbish what few good memories she has from a very hard life now that she's dying of cancer. Her six former classmates were the only people in her life who'd ever shown her even counterfeit affection, and now she wants to talk over old times.
Unfortunately, most of them aren't at all pleased to see *her*. While Peg is now a much-mellowed mother of a large family, two of the men are now in the priesthood under the administration of a very conservative Cardinal; Barry Field (who left the Church) has just passed a stringent background check to become part of a large Fundamentalist TV network; Sister Scholastica Burke is in line to become Mistress of Novices at her Order's motherhouse; and Judy is engaged to a rising young politician.
Not surprising that Cheryl died of nicotine poisoning on her first night back in town, is it?
(If the high school plot sounds somewhat familiar to those who've only read the later Demarkian books, SOMEBODY ELSE'S MUSIC also deals with a small clique whose lives were shaped by their high school years. Here, though, instead of being too intelligent for her own good and a focus of resentment, Cheryl was held in not-very-vigorous contempt and treated as a kind of live sex toy by the boys while being ostracized by the girls. The clique members were more in the wrong for their arrogant treatment of Cheryl than she was for the life she led, as the story develops.)
As it happens, Cardinal O'Bannion badly wants to relieve Father Andy Walsh (who enjoys being outrageous and indiscreet) of his parish if he can find cause, so through Father Tibor he persuades Gregor to come to Colchester for an investigation - just in time to witness Andy's dramatic death by poisoned sacramental wine at Holy Friday Mass, before whatever dramatic revelations Walsh might've made in his homily.
Nice character development of the seven players from Black Rock Park, each of whom gets a certain amount of time as a viewpoint character, including Cheryl Cass (sick and somewhat muddled by painkillers). A decent amount of background detail is developed; for instance, Judy Eagan runs a catering business and has to worry about transporting live baby chicks for Easter parties, and all the priests are dog-tired during Holy Week what with all they have to do.
- Four dead bodies (not counting animals killed in the Black Rock Park incident).
- Explicit sexual content described from memory.
- Armenian Orthodox Lent, which Gregor can't seem to escape even in another state.
- Introducing the Sisters of Divine Grace and John Cardinal O'Bannion, who all figure in later cases of Gregor's retirement.
- Not much Bennis Hannaford.
- Consecrated oat bran muffins.
Gregor isn't anxious to investigate anything to do with religion, his own faith having been lost along with his wife Elizabeth, who died a very slow death of cancer, but the Cardinal is a good friend of Father Tibor, and Gregor owes the Armenian priest a favor. He agrees to look into Father Walsh's relationship with Cheryl. Instead he finds himself investigating the murder of Father Walsh during Mass,dead when he drinks poisoned wine from a chalice touched by the other participants in the ritual.
Against the background of Lent and Easter as celebrated by the Catholic Church, with lots of detail about the nuts and bolts of what is involved in organizing such rituals, Gregor must wend his way through the lives of both the victims of murder, and those kids, now with sterling reputations, who had been involved in the Black Rock Park incident. Who had motive to murder Cheryl and Father Walsh? Everyone.
Events in that history make this book unsuitable for younger readers, and I would err on the side of caution.