Blood of the Lamb by Michael Lister
Florida prison chaplain John Jordan’s search for the peace that has so long eluded him is interrupted by an unimaginable murder. Attempting to be a good man in a very bad place while also maintaining his shaky sobriety, John investigates the murder of the seven year-old adopted daughter of ex-con turned televangelist, Bobby Earl Caldwell, a murder committed in John’s own locked office when Bobby Earl conducts a service in the Potter Correctional Institution chapel.
This unspeakable act, and the investigation that follows, will force John to confront his own fears and beliefs, causing this man of mercy to thirst for justice. Torn between the seemingly conflicting roles he’s asked to assume—cop and cleric—John must struggle to figure out his identity as well as that of the killer’s, but his past continues to haunt him in the form of troubling thoughts of failure and the resurfacing of his ex-wife, Susan.
Putting aside his distrust of the slick televangelist and his seductive wife, John must ignore intimidation and resist manipulation to find a killer among some very unusual suspects—including two murderers, a child molester, a teacher with something to hide, and Bobby Earl Caldwell himself whose very act of exposing his daughter to such risk causes John to suspect him from the very beginning.
Amid private crises and the torturous experiences of a thoughtful, sensitive man working in such a pitiless place, nothing short of death will end John’s search for the person who killed little Nicole Caldwell. Uncovering the guilt, restoring the balance, John seeks pardon from the self-inflicted life sentence he’s serving and exoneration from the burden of regret he bears.
Brutal killings in prison aren’t anything new. But what if the victim is a visiting child? And she was in a locked room off the prison chapel? Such is the premise of Michael Lister’s second John Jordan Mystery: Blood of the Lamb. It’s a taut, carefully crafted mystery that doesn’t skim over the teeming violence and racism in prison, nor the repulsiveness of the crime against an unsuspecting child.
What makes the novel transcend the ordinary well-plotted mystery is the character of the story’s hero. John Jordan is a flawed minister, a man of God who questions his faith, a man of flesh and blood who wants happiness but finds it painfully elusive. Unlike characters in other openly Christian mysteries, Jordan wears his religious beliefs, not as a mantle that can be taken on and off at will, but as a deeply abiding personal presence. Thus his spiritual conflicts are universal rather than faith-specific, giving his hero an ecumenical appeal–you can empathize with Jordan no matter what your religious beliefs. And if you don’t have any religious beliefs, you’ll find the character equally appealing because of his deep humanity. Author Lister actually was a prison chaplain, so he captures the claustrophobia and pent-up violence of prison life with excruciating realism.
BLOOD OF THE LAMB by Michael Lister
It’s an oddity that, although many mystery and detective stories end with someone going to prison, we rarely see one that is set in a prison. (At least not the ones I usually read.) Indeed, it is often an indicator of “sensitivity” for an amateur or even professional sleuth to
have a distaste or even a fear of visiting a prisoner. Michael Lister’s BLOOD OF THE LAMB transgresses that convention. Most of the action takes place in a Florida penitentiary, where protagonist John Jordan is a chaplain. It’s the second in a series, but the first one I’ve read.
The story begins with a conflict between Chaplain Jordan and the warden, who has gone over Jordan’s head and arranged a visit to the prison by a well-known televangelist, his wife, and their young adopted daughter. Jordan seems to be on the liberal side of religion so he’s
not thrilled about the evangelist’s visit in the first place. But knowing that the audience will include a number of convicted pedophiles, he’s full of anger and disbelief at the stupidity of bringing a young child in to perform for the inmates. Sadly, his concerns are validated
when the girl is found murdered in a “locked-room” situation in Jordan’s own office.
To find out who killed the little girl, Jordan must deal with an antagonistic law enforcement establishment, the usual cons and con artists who populate the prison, the well-connected and well-financed evangelist, and members of the prison staff who may or may not be trustworthy. Read more ›
One Line Blurb: Florida prison chaplain John Jordan investigates the murder of a seven-year-old girl, the adopted daughter of a televangelist, killed in Jordan’s office while her father was preaching.
John Jordan is an unlikely person to be a prison chaplain. His feelings about organized religion would seem to make him not suitable for the chaplaincy of anywhere; his faith, which is not blinding or without question, is highly personal. His skills as an investigator should have him in another line of work altogether.
Jordan comes into work at the Potter Correctional Facility one morning to find out that Warden Edward Stone has made arrangements for televangelist Bobby Earl Caldwell, his wife Bunny, and adopted mulatto daughter Nicole to hold a service in Jordan’s chapel that evening. Warden Stone has done this without filling out the required paperwork, without running the required background checks, without clearing it with Chaplain Jordan OR the head of security. The warden’s nephew, DeAndre Stone, is Caldwell’s security person, and he is carrying “a firearm on state prison property – a delony punishable by fines and jail time.” Not that the warden is going to do anything about this. Or the fact that Bobby Earl has a prison record. Or the fact that no child should be allowed anywhere in a prison except the designated visiting area. A disaster waiting to happen.
Nicole is killed during Bobby Earl’s service that evening. While she is locked in Chaplain Jordan’s office, someone brutally beats her to death. The only people seen going in or out of that office during the service are her mother and father. They are not treated as suspects by the official investigators. They ARE considered suspects by John Jordan and his informal investigating team.
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