The Church of the Holy Child
Intrigue Publishing, August 2017
From the publisher—
A woman with a history of domestic abuse is missing. Her sister hires private investigators Cole and Callahan.
When the woman is found dead, her husband is charged but when a second body appears showing the same wounds, questions arise and what looked like a slam-dunk becomes anyone’s guess. The case goes to John Stark, a veteran cop and close friend of Griff Cole.
The bodies are piling up, and one person knows where the killer is. Father Francis, a priest at The Church of the Holy Child, listens to the killer’s disturbed account of each murder and wrestles with the vows that bind him to secrecy.
The case takes an unexpected and personal turn when Cole’s ex-wife goes missing and a connection to his past points to the killer.
To me, too many thrillers and suspense novels focus on plot and action to the detriment of character development. That’s not to say they can’t be good; some really are very entertaining and exciting. In The Church of the Holy Child, Patricia Hale does a nice job of rounding out her story by having some very appealing and/or interesting characters and still maintains a high level of tension. The title alone was enough to gain my attention and I was not disappointed in reading this.
Britt and Griff hit just the right note with me in their working and personal relationships although their first names struck me as too…I don’t know, fashionable or something, so I’m glad they’re usually referred to as Callahan and Cole, respectively. This pair is clearly in love, not quite ready to fully commit but Cole is comfortable in their current status while Callahan is slightly more angsty. They each bring another element to their work because she is a former family lawyer and he used to be a cop. Because he has kept up his connections with the police force, they are frequently called upon to help out on certain cases.
John, a cop friend trying to cope with some real baggage, is appealing in his neediness, and Father Francis is a priest who struggles mightily with the confessional secrecy when his devotion to his chosen path and his sense of justice bang up against each other. All four of these people must find their own way in this current morass of evil in which women are being slaughtered.
Not every reader cares for multiple points of view or for being “in the head” of the killer but Ms. Hale’s approach worked very well for me. Britt speaks in first person while Father Francis is presented in third person and the killer’s infrequent, brief appearances are…well, you’ll have to see for yourself because any explanation I give would be difficult to explain without being spoilery.
The last thing that kept me reading is a plot that makes sense yet is full of tension. I did guess the killer’s identity at a certain point but that didn’t matter because the ride-along with the private eyes and the police is well worth the journey. I really am looking forward to the next Cole & Co. outing.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.
An Excerpt from
The Church of the Holy Child
Inside the wooden confessional there’s a man who talks to God. At least that’s what my mother told me the last time we were here. But a month has passed since she disappeared so today I’ve come to the church alone. I no longer believe that she’s coming back for me like she said. Instead, I’ve become her stand-in for the beatings my father dishes out. That’s what he calls it, dishing out a beating, like he’s slapping a mound of mashed potato on my plate. He swaggers through the door ready for a cold one after coming off his seven to three shift, tosses his gun and shield on our kitchen table and reaches into the refrigerator for a Budweiser. I cringe in the corner and make myself small, waiting to hear what kind of day he’s had and whether or not I’ll be his relief. More often than not, his eyes search me out. “’C’mere asshole,” he says, popping the aluminum top, “I’m gonna dish out a beating.” If anyone can help me, it has to be this guy who talks to God. I open the door of the confessional with my good arm and step inside.
Twenty-three years later
His breath was warm on my neck, his lips hot and dry. His tongue searched the delicate skin below my ear. Heart quickening, back arching, I rose to meet him.
The phone on the nightstand vibrated.
“Shit,” Griff whispered, peeling away from me, our clammy skin reluctant to let go. He swung his feet over the edge of the bed and flashed me his bad-boy, half-smile. “Cole,” he said into the phone.
At times like this, cell phones rate right alongside other necessary evils like cod liver oil and flu shots. I leaned against his back and caressed his stomach, damp dunes of sculpted muscle. Not bad for a guy north of forty. Griff still measured himself against the hotshots in the field. But in my book he had nothing to worry about; I’d take the stable, wise, worn-in model over a wet behind the ear, swagger every time.
He pried my fingers from his skin and walked toward the bathroom still grunting into the phone.
I slipped into my bathrobe and headed for the kitchen. I have my morning priorities and since the first one was interrupted by Griff’s phone, coffee comes in a close second.
Twenty minutes later he joined me dressed in his usual attire, jeans, boots, tee shirt and sport jacket. Coming up behind me, he nuzzled my neck as I poured Breakfast Blend into a travel mug. Coffee splashed onto the counter top.
“Gotta run,” he said taking the cup from my hand.
“Not sure yet. That was John. He said he could use a hand.
Griff flinched like I’d landed one to his gut.
“Sorry,” I said. “Cheap shot.”
“Woman found dead early this morning.”
“When’s he going to admit that he can’t run the department with a pint of scotch sloshing around in his gut?”
“The job’s all he’s got left, makes it hard to let go.”
“I’m just saying that he shouldn’t be head of CID. Not now. I’m surprised Haggerty has put up with it this long.”
“There’s a lot going down at the precinct. Internal Affairs is having a field day after that meth bust.
They’ve got so many guys on leave right now that a bottle of Dewar’s in John’s desk is the least of Haggerty’s problems.”
“I just don’t want you to get sucked into CID.”
He slipped his hands inside my robe and nuzzled my neck. “No chance of that. Nobody on the force feels like this.”
I pushed him away halfheartedly.
I’ll call you when I know what’s going on.”
The door closed behind him.
I sank onto a kitchen chair and flipped open the People magazine lying on the table. Griff and I had just finished an investigation for an heiress in the diamond industry whose sticky handed husband had resorted to blackmailing her brother as a way around their pre-nup. The ink on her twenty-thousand-dollar check made out to Cole & Co. was still wet. And being that I was the & Co. part of the check, I’d earned a leisurely morning.
The phone rang just as I was getting to the interview with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell on the secrets of a long-term relationship. Caller ID told me it was Katie Nightingale, our go-to girl at the office. Katie kept track of everything from appointments to finances to take-out menus.
I lifted the phone and hit ‘answer’.
“Britt?” Katie spoke before I had a chance, never a good sign.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“What makes her missing? It hasn’t even been twenty-four hours.”
“The woman who called said her sister was leaving an abusive husband and was supposed to let her know when she was safe by ringing the phone once at seven-thirty. The call never came. Now she can’t get hold of her. She said her sister carries your card in her wallet.”
“What’s her name?”
“The woman who called is Beth Jones. Her sister is Shirley Trudeau.”
I nodded into the phone. I can’t remember every woman I encounter, but Shirley’s name rang a bell. Since giving up my position as a Family Law attorney with Hughes and Sandown, I’d been offering free legal aid for women who needed advice but couldn’t afford it. Mostly I worked with wives trying to extricate themselves from abusive marriages. Given the reason I’d abandoned my law career, it was the least I could do. Shirley hadn’t been living at the women’s shelter, but she’d spent enough time there to have Sandra, the shelter’s director, hook her up with me.
“And Beth thinks Shirley’s husband found her?”
“That’s what it sounded like once she’d calmed down enough to form actual words.”
“I’m on my way.”
I set the phone down, making a mental note to call Sandra. She’d upgraded from a caseworker in Connecticut to Director in Portland, Maine a few months ago. I’d stopped by her office to introduce myself when she started and left my business cards. Our paths didn’t cross that often but we respected each other’s work and always took a few minutes to chat. I knew she’d been on the swim team in college and that she could bench-press her weight. We were close in age and like minded when it came to the politics of non-profits. No doubt Beth Jones had called her too.
After a shower and a quick clean up of last night’s wine glasses, Chinese takeout containers and clothes that we’d left strewn around the living room, I locked the apartment door and began my fifteen-minute trek to our office on Middle Street. I savored my walk through the Old Port, the name given to Portland, Maine’s waterfront. The summer heat that a month ago had my shirt stuck tight against my back was a thing of the past and the snow and ice that would make walking an athletic event had not yet arrived. The cool, crisp air was like a shot of espresso. As long as I didn’t let my mind wander to what nature had in store, I could enjoy the rush.
I hit “contacts” on my phone and scanned the names for Sandra’s.
“Sandra, it’s Britt,” I said when she answered. “I wish this was a social call, but it’s not. Shirley Trudeau is missing.
“I know. Her sister called this morning. I’m on my way in now. How did you find out?”
“Her sister hired us to find her. “Was someone helping her leave?”
“She had a caseworker, but I wasn’t in on the plan. I’ll know more once I get to my office and talk to the person she was working with.”
“Okay if I call you later?”
“I don’t know how much I’ll be able to tell you. You know the rules. If she was on her way…”
I stopped mid-stride and lowered the phone from my ear. Sandra’s voice slipped away. That dead body that Griff went to look at… my gut said, Shirley Trudeau.
Excerpt from The Church of the Holy Child by Patricia Hale. Copyright © 2017 by Patricia Hale. Reproduced with permission from Patricia Hale. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Patricia Hale received her MFA degree from Goddard College. Her essays have appeared in literary magazines and the anthology, My Heart’s First Steps. Her debut novel, In the Shadow of Revenge, was published in 2013. The Church of the Holy Child is the first book in her PI series featuring the team of Griff Cole and Britt Callahan. Patricia is a member of Sister’s in Crime, Mystery Writer’s of America, NH Writer’s Project and Maine Writer’s and Publisher’s Alliance. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two dogs.
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