Prayer by Philip Kerr
Reviewed by Molly
Philip Kerr has a new book out, and guess what? This one’s set in Texas! Most of Prayer, Kerr’s new thriller, is set in the shiny metropolis of downtown Houston. These descriptions of the strip mall wasteland end up intersecting nicely with anoter section of the story set in ghost town Galveston, specifically in a mansion previously owned by a priest. There’s also a visit to Austin just long enough for Kerr’s hero to ruminate on the history of the Tower shootings. One has the feeling that Kerr is drawn to violent historical landscapes, not excluding those of Texas.
Prayer starts with FBI agent Gil Martins, a Scot-turned-American, in a Catholic Church, quietly doubting his faith before heading to work. His priest has a little something for Gil to look into, in his spare time, as someone has been frightening progressives and unbelievers to death. As his day job takes him on the hunt for a serial killer targeting charitable citizens, Martins has a lot of time to think about ethics. When his wife leaves him for being an unbeliever and he takes some time off work to deal with his OCD, it leaves Martins with more time to think about religion.
Kerr conjures up a Job-like character in the suffering of agent Gil Martins, and while the novel starts as a straightforward FBI thriller about homicide and a little domestic terrorism, it takes a sharp left turn towards the supernatural. Metaphor bleeds into self-actualized prophecy as prayers for the proof of a deity’s existence bring forth some terrifying real-life effects.
Many of us know Phillip Kerr for his Bernie Gunther novels, set in the thirties through the sixties. Kerr’s latest, Prayer, is by contrast a novel set in contemporary society, and his dry wit and quick observations translate well into FBI tough talk. Kerr takes the opportunity to introduce some societal commentary on mental illness through discussion of Martin’s OCD, a welcome discussion in a genre that frequently demonizes mental illness. There are even a few “let’s talk tech” moments, and after reading this one, you’ll never think about self-destructing email the same way again.
However, the old foes of ignorance and prejudice always return, despite the new setting of Houston in modern times. This time, we read about religious belief gone awry instead of political fanaticism, but Kerr’s fascination with right-wing extremism shines through. A moody, dark addition to Kerr’s oeuvre, Prayer is a thriller which will leave you up late with the lights left on.
Philip Kerr will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Saturday, May 10 at 4PM. You can pre-order signed copies of Prayer now via bookpeople.com. The book will be on our shelves on May 6th.