Michael Lister: a bright talent with a bloody tale

“The Body and the Blood,” by Michael Lister. Five Star. 330 pages. $25.95

Do you enjoy mysteries with religious themes and characters? Forget Father Dowling. Forget Rabbi Small. Catch up with Michael Lister’s unique “John Jordan Mystery” series. A former policeman now working as a prison chaplain in Florida’s panhandle, John Jordan wrestles with the conflict of justice and mercy on the one hand, and justice and vengeance on the other. Lister’s Jordan becomes a flawed everyman whose determination to become a better person and a spiritual counselor to others is constantly tested as he struggles to balance the demands of his chaplaincy with his work as a crime investigator. 

In “The Body and the Blood,” the latest book in this series, something that seems completely impossible has happened at the Potter Correctional Institution. An inmate named Justin Menge, just short of being paroled, is murdered inside of his locked cell. Most peculiarly, the large pool of blood spreading under the cell door is no longer in proximity to the now-bloodless corpse lying on the cot – a cot whose sheets are almost clean.  How can this have happened in a prison with multiple levels of security? And what does it mean that the danger to Menge had been suggested in two different ways? First, a sister who hasn’t seen him in years voices concern that Menge might be in danger. Second, a mysterious handout appears imitating an announcement for a prison worship service, but with wording that warns of such a crime.

While Jordan and the state prison system’s chief investigator, Tom Daniels, explore the locked door part of the mystery, they come up with a variety of suspects on the basis of motive – perhaps too many plausible suspects for a jury to find anyone guilty “beyond a shadow of a doubt.” Daniels has a vested interest in the case because Menge was about to testify against Juan Martinez, an escaped and recaptured convict who had raped Daniels’ wife. John Jordan has a complex relationship with vengeance-minded Daniels in that Jordan is working hard to rebuild his fractured marriage to Daniels’ daughter, Susan.

Suspicion falls on corrupt prison guards, on a female prison psychologist for whom records show improper time markers for entering and leaving Menge’s section of the prison, and on another prisoner, Chris Sobel – known to be Menge’s boyfriend. Since Sobel and Menge are very similar in appearance, it even seems possible that they might have switched identities at some point or been mistaken for one another, further confusing the permutations of motive.

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 6-12, 2010 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 7-13 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Michael Lister or here: Florida Weekly – Michael Lister pdf

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