Friday, September 12, 2008

Power in the Blood - Michael Lister

John Jordan is a former cop and the present Potter Correctional Institute chaplain who witnesses first hand the gruesome death of inmate Ike Johnson. When the superintendent asks Jordan to help investigate the death, Jordan discovers not only a network of crime and corruption taking place within the walls of PCI, but also the crime and corruption that is spilling out in the county. With the assistance of his friends Merrill and Anna, Jordan sets out to uncover the truth behind it all.

Power in the Blood is Michael Lister's first John Jordan mystery, and I can say without reserve that I am looking forward to checking out the next two books in the series: Blood of the Lamb and Flesh and Blood. John Jordan is a unique protagonist; definitely the first crime-fighting chaplain I've read about! And (you can say it with me because you've heard me say it before) I love Jordan because he's real: he isn't perfect, he makes mistakes, he has "issues", and there are many complex layers to this character. The inmates like Jordan and it's believable. I would like J.J. if I knew him, too. As is common place with me, I took a special shine to Jordan's good friend Merrill - Merrill Monroe. His intelligent, sarcastic humor provides a great deal of comic relief throughout the novel. Lister also does a very nice job with the character of Anna. Just anyone wouldn't be working in a high security correctional facility, especially not just any woman. Anna's personality is believable for the job she holds. She's spunky and self-assured. When Inspector Daniels comes in to ask her about Ike Johnson, they have a real "you go girl"-inspiring exchange:

"Faggot on the outside too?" [Daniels]
"If you are asking, in your own redneck way, if I am aware of a lover he would have tried to escape for, I am not. He did have four visits from a Don Hall when he first got here, but that's been over a year ago." [Anna]
"Is there anything else you can think of I should know?"
"Yes, there is. Something very important."
"Well, spit it out."
"My brother, whom I love with all my heart, is gay, and I am offended by your assertion that he or any other gay may should be used for firewood."
"Firewood? What the hell are you talk about now?"
She looked at me.
"The term faggot, " I said, "came from a period in time when homosexual men were burned at the stake. It means kindling." [John]

Anna's personality is essential for the believability of the plot as well. Overall, a very well developed female character.

I have to admit that at first I was concerned that I would be overly harsh on my review of Power in the Blood because the book I finished just before starting this one was a James Lee Burke novel. The magic of Burke's use of language is hard to compare to. Lister isn't as prolific as Burke; Burke is a unique writer, but Lister knows how to use language as well. When he came up with setting like

Beyond the blacktop court where young black men played full-court basketball like they did in Miami, the elderly inmates played horseshoes like they did in retirement homes in Sarasota. Past them, the young white inmates played volleyball the way they did on Panama City Beach. Yet, beyond all of this, he wall of chain-link fence and razor wire served as an ominous reminder of exactly which part of Florida this was.

I was struck and reminded of the humanity inside the fence and razor wire. Lister's approach helps the reader to see the PEOPLE involved, not necessarily the criminals, who we might want to see as monsters. And it is important to see them as people because that is exactly how Jordan sees the inmates. They are his flock. However, don't think that Lister was unrealistic about the inmates either. Lister is, himself, a chaplain with the Florida Department of Corrections, and there were elements of this book I was worried would leave me with nightmares.

I especially enjoyed Lister's creative use of both biblical and literary illusions. They are spread throughout the books and are some of the most effective use of this device I've experienced in some time.

The plot of Power in the Blood is tight. There isn't a lot of unnecessary, outside detail to muck up the storyline. Jordan has some past issues that Lister brings out seamlessly. They don't detract from the present, but instead allow the reader a better understanding of Jordan. And Lister is great at slowly feeding the reader facts as the investigation progresses. The novel is told in first person, and the reader receives clues exactly the same way that the narrator receives them.

The only negative I would present about Power in the Blood were a couple of occasions where I rolled my eyes thinking Lister got a little hokey. Maybe others might view these scenes differently, but I thought they were conspicuously sappy. The book is not sappy and the couple of spots seemed to stand out to me as not fitting in with the tone of the novel. But that is far from enough for me to not recommend this novel.

Power in the Blood had me reading well after I should have been in bed each night. I simply had to read "just one more chapter" until I made it to the conclusion. Unique, intriguing, powerful. I look forward to more John Jordan mysteries from Michael Lister.


beauvallet September 13, 2008 at 11:03 AM  

Okay, Jen, one more to add to my list. Geez, I can't keep up!

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