Michael Lister’s crime-fighting prison chaplain is complex and classic

“Rivers to Blood,” by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 280 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

This, the sixth “John Jordan Mystery,” finds the chaplain/detective sleuthing through a pile of criminality, much of it quite hideous. We immediately learn that an inmate at the Potter Correctional Institute, a state prison on the Florida panhandle, has escaped with just a few weeks left on his sentence. About to become a free man, why would he put that freedom at risk? John joins others in the manhunt, including members of the sheriff’s office headed by his father Jack. RiverstoBloodCover

During the hunt in the soggy woodlands, John thinks he hears an airplane engine and catches a glimpse of a plane perhaps head for a crash landing. Before long, John himself has a crash landing as someone smashes him on the back of his head. Getting back to his feet, he joins others at the prison transport van where a transport officer is found bloody and unconscious. The officer’s partner is found wearing an inmate uniform. So, where is the inmate?

Soon, the volunteer Potter County Search and Rescue Team is assisting the search. With the exception of one individual, the members of this group “shared the Southern good ol’ bad boy traits of tough-guy posturing, folksy anti-intellectualism, covert racism, and general xenophobia.” This is Lister country.

The next morning, PCI psychologist DeLisa Lopez tells John that there is a serial rapist attacking male victims both inside and outside the penitentiary and forcing them to sodomize themselves.

So what do a falling airplane and a runaway inmate have to do with this latest and most heinous heap of trouble? I don’t think I’m going to tell you.

Lister

Lister

What I am going to tell you is that in “Rivers to Blood” Michael Lister probes the nature of depravity like no one else. And while he is doing this nastily gorgeous work, he is weaving a few other story lines into the tapestry in gorily addictive prose.

One underplot has to do with John’s father’s campaign for re-election, a campaign that for the first time finds the proud man rattled by the possibility of losing. Sheriff Jack’s vulnerability complicates his portrait as well as that of the Jordan family relationships. Brother Jeff, who shows clear hostility toward John, is part of that mischievous search and rescue team. Their mother, strangely on the periphery of John’s world, needs an organ transplant.

Another complication neatly grafted onto the main story line is John’s despairing loneliness. This inner situation, which comes and goes in intensity, derives in large part from his stunted relationship with the woman he loves. Anna, intelligent and beautiful, is – like John – emotionally wounded. Both have a desperate need for intimacy and a fear of it. And Anna is married. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 7, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 8 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Rivers to Blood

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