Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series is one of my favourites. The quality of the writing alone elevates each of his books above the average crime novel. So I was interested to see that Kerr had written a standalone thriller billed as a ‘modern horror story’. Horror isn’t a genre I’m particularly fond of, although supernatural mysteries hold more appeal, so I was intrigued to see what I’d be reading, And for most of the book Prayer was a conventional, intriguing and well written thriller that opened out into something else completely.
Gil Martins is an FBI agent who investigates domestic terrorism. Despite his religious wife, he finds himself slipping away from his faith which causes a rift in his marriage. He investigates a seemingly unconnected series of deaths where people, who by everyday standards could have been considered to have benefitted society in some way, are suddenly found dead. When a woman, who is dismissed as mentally ill, states that the victims have been killed by prayer Gil is dismissive of the claims. However, as he digs deeper into the shadowy world of the large religious congregations, he discovers something that shakes his atheism to the core.
I found this book impossible to put down once I’d started it. It’s rare these days that I come across something like this but it was a genuinely compelling read. In many ways it read like a modern fable, so removed is the world that it depicted from British life. The US religious movement came across as sinister in its fervency but as the implications of what is happening becomes clear the book is about much more than the influence of large churches.
Towards the end of the book, as the narrative changed from thriller into a confrontation with the supernatural, I felt the narrative lost some of the tension as anything seemed possible. But the book was an interesting exploration of the mechanics of faith, prayer and ultimately the nature of God.
Thanks to Quercus for my review copy.