Tag Archives: prison chaplain

King of hearts a calling card for murder in latest “John Jordan” mystery

Blood Money, by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 280 pages. Hardcover $26.99. Trade paperback $16.99.

The eighth entry in the “John Jordan Mystery” series shows this incredibly talented and prolific author at the top of his form. No one gives us Panhandle Florida like Mr. Lister, and no one handles the prison microcosm with the degree of physical, social, and moral authenticity that he is able to convey. In this story, local politics rears its more than ugly heads, serial suicides – or homicides in disguise – flare up in the Potterville Correction Institution, and a prostitute who had serviced a political event is found dead – then the corpse is mysteriously stolen.  BloodMoney3d

Chaplain-investigator Jordan, son of the police chief, is once again in the middle of several messes. The new warden wants to get rid of him, Jordan himself wonders if the ugliness of his job is overwhelming him, and his lover’s ex-husband is threatening Anna – the single most important and redeeming relationship in Jordan’s life.

That ugliness at the job includes that fact that a group of inmates have dubbed themselves the Suicide Kings. Take a look: is the king of hearts wielding a weapon toward himself? Or is he fending off or recovering from an attack? However you read the standard image of this card, its discovery as a signature to several deaths in the prison, slipped into each victim/practitioner’s pocket, is eerie and shudder-producing. In an environment where boredom is in itself deadly, incarcerated men need something to do with their dreams of power and their dreams of ending it all. Mostly, the members of the suicide club manage a series of failed attempts.

They have created a situation in which those inside the club or knowledgeable about it can commit a murder and stage it as a suicide. You’ll marvel at how Michael Lister plays out the hand he has dealt to himself in this morbid but magnetic plot line.

Part of the suicide club members’ pact is to buy insurance on each other’s lives; this adds fascinating dimensions to the investigation and a special overtone to the book’s title.

Michael Lister

Michael Lister

Indeed, the novel is a trove of facts about suicide in general and its epidemic growth in the prison community. Fortunately, author Lister does not break stride as he slides in this astounding information, which is central to the action and themes. We learn, for example, that failed suicides are sometimes failure of will, but often planned as ways of improving the inmate’s benefits: more time out of his cell, more counseling and medication, etc.

Because health care professionals at the prison are experimenting with hypnotherapy to deal with the inmate’s various problems, they fall under suspicion. Perhaps they hypnotizing susceptible men into self-murder – or just plain murder. But to what advantage? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 13, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 14 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Blood Money

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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.



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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