Pagan Babies

Pagan Babies

4.0 15
by Elmore Leonard, Alexander Adams
     
 

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Father Terry Dunn hears a lot of strange confessions. After all, he's the only priest for miles in the lingering aftermath of the worst massacre Rwanda has ever seen. And Fr. Terry, who has forty-seven bodies in his church that need burying, has just heard one confession too many. After exacting from them a chilling penance, Fr. Terry has to get out of Africa -

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Overview

Father Terry Dunn hears a lot of strange confessions. After all, he's the only priest for miles in the lingering aftermath of the worst massacre Rwanda has ever seen. And Fr. Terry, who has forty-seven bodies in his church that need burying, has just heard one confession too many. After exacting from them a chilling penance, Fr. Terry has to get out of Africa - pronto." "Now Terry is coming home to Detroit, where a five-year-old tax-fraud indictment is hanging over him. Is Terry Dunn really a priest? He certainly doesn't act like one. A fugitive felon on two continents, Terry is being pursued by a cigarette-smuggling cohort, who rolled over on Terry to save jail time...yet still demands his share of the money. But Debbie Dewey has other plans for Terry. She's just been sprung from a three-year fall at Sawgrass Correctional for aggravated assault...and is now trying to make it as a stand-up comic. Debbie and Terry hit it off beautifully. They have the same sense of humor and similar goals: Both of them want to raise a whole lot of cash. Terry, for the children of Rwanda; Debbie, to score off a guy who owes her sixty-seven thousand dollars. It's Debbie who keeps prying, until she learns the bizarre truth about Terry; Debbie who sells him on going in together for a much bigger payoff than either could manage alone. That is unless the priest is working a con of his own.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Buscemi offers a standard, dry reading of Leonard's sly new tale, which is appropriate (though his attempt at producing African accents is unconvincing) for the opening scene: Rwanda after its rabid interethnic violence. Unordained priest "Father" Terry Dunn ministers to the local congregants (47 of whom were slashed to death) and shacks up with his housekeeper until he decides to take matters of justice into his own hands. Having arrived in Africa on the lam from a criminal charge in the U.S., Terry returns home to Detroit under similar circumstances. But Buscemi's tone never becomes as lithe as Leonard's tale does in Detroit; his best effort at atmosphere is the smart-alecky tone he gives to Terry's confederate Debbie Dewey, an aspiring stand-up comic just released from prison for having tried to run over the ex-boyfriend who scammed her out of thousands of dollars. Debbie intends to scam him back and joins up with Terry, who has his own shady operation. Debbie's ex fronts for the mob and is in cahoots with a witless hit man called Mutt, who in turn allies himself with an ex-smuggling partner of Terry's. Everyone tries to protect his or her own interest in the rapidly circulating money. One can't help feeling that the abridgement has cut out some vital material before Terry's final return to Rwanda. All in all, though, this is a hugely entertaining story by Leonard--albeit one conveyed only moderately well by Buscemi. Simultaneous release with the Dell hardcover (Forecasts, July 3). (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Coming on the heels of his second Chili Palmer novel (Be Cool), Leonard's latest effort seems to have some pretty straight-laced characters. However, a well-developed story and Leonard's trademark dry wit compensate for the lack of a force like Chili. Father Terry Dunn, an American priest working in Rwanda, is forced to return to the United States after exacting penance from a group of local Hutu murderers. Upon returning to Detroit, ostensibly to raise money for African orphans, he becomes involved with Debbie, a recently released ex-convict hoping to strike it rich as a stand-up comedian. A plan for both Terry and Debbie to attain the riches they desire soon gives way to a mix of deceit and false loyalties. Once again, Leonard proves his mastery at creating likable if very flawed characters, and nobody presents the running of the con game better than he does. His fans will enjoy his latest, making it essential for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/00.]--Craig L. Shufelt, Gladwin Cty. Lib., MI Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Internet Book Watch
Father Terry Dunn knows it is time to leave the Rwanda massacre. His church contains forty-seven corpses turning to "leather". Although Terry is hiding as a priest, he cannot take any more of the killing fields. He kills several of the culprits but flees home to Detroit. He originally fled to avoid jail time. Debbie Dewey has just left prison after three years for trying to run her former husband over with a car. Debbie wants to become a stand-up comic until she meets Terry still masquerading as a priest. They are immediately attracted to one another and he brings her into his current con, bilking wealthy patrons in a save the Rwandan children cause which is another name for his wallet. She ups the ante by persuading him that her ex and the mob boss he is tied to is the perfect pigeon. Pagan Babies is more than vintage Leonard. This novel is classic Leonard wildly destroying moral barriers. The story line is entertaining, never eases up, and contains Mr. Leonard's graphic but picturesque prose that shows he is quite a talent. The characters are typical of Mr. Leonard's novel as they run the full spectrum of sleaze, in other words likable to detestable parasites. This tale is superb reading for those fans that enjoy something different along the lines of a fabulously written crime drama heavily spiced with the absurd.
—Internet Book Watch
Bruce DeSilva
Pagan Babies has the same fast pace, crackling dialogue and dark ironies we've come to expect from every Elmore Leonard novel for the last 20 years...the book as a whole is a sharp exploration of loyalty and disloyalty, trust and betrayal.
New York Times Book Review
Bruce Fretts
God bless Elmore Leonard...In his wildly entertaining new novel, Leonard proves that he's still a criminal mastermind...You can't help but feel a visceral thrill...
Entertainment Weekly
Janet Maslin
… the pieces of this crime tale begin falling into place so handily that Mr. Leonard might as well have hung a "Virtuoso at Work" shingle on his door...As it moves entertainingly up the gangland food chain, escalating from tax-free cigarettes to mob hits and a scam to extort damages from Randy's restaurant, the story trots out an irresistible array of lowlifes.
The New York Times

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780736655910
Publisher:
Books on Tape, Inc.
Publication date:
01/01/2001
Edition description:
Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

THE CHURCH HAD BECOME a tomb where forty-seven bodies turned to leather and stains had been lying on the concrete floor the past five years, though not lying where they had been shot with Kalashnikovs or hacked to death with machetes. The benches had been removed and the bodies reassembled: men, women and small children laid in rows of skulls and spines, femurs, fragments of cloth stuck to mummified remains, many of the adults missing feet, all missing bones that had been carried off by scavenging dogs.

Since the living would no longer enter the church, Fr. Terry Dunn heard confessions in the yard of the rectory, in the shade of old pines and silver eucalyptus trees.

"Bless me, Fatha, for I have sin. It has been two months from the last time I come to Confession. Since then I am fornicating with a woman from Gisenyi three times only and this is all I have done.

They would seem to fill their mouths with the English words, pronounc-ing each one carefully, with an accent Terry believed was heard only in Africa. He gave fornicators ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys, murmured what passed for an absolution while the penitent said the Act of Contrition, and dismissed them with a reminder to love God and sin no more.

"Bless me, Fatha, for I have sin. Is a long time since I come here but is not my fault, you don't have Confession always when you say. The sin I did, I stole a goat from close by Nyundo for my family to eat. My wife cook it en brochette and also in a stew with potatoes and peppers."

"Last night at supper," Terry said, "I told my housekeeper I'd enjoy goat stew a lot more if it wasn't so goddamnbony."

The goat thief said, "Excuse me, Fatha?"

"Those little sharp bones you get in your mouth," Terry said, and gave the man ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys. He gave just about everyone ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys to say as their penance.

Some came seeking advice.

"Bless me, Fatha, I have not sin yet but I think of it. I see one of the men kill my family has come back. One of the Hutu Interahamwe militia, he come back from the Goma refugee camp and I like to kill him, but I don't want to go to prison and I don't want to go to Hell. Can you have God forgive me before I kill him?"

Terry said, "I don't think He'll go for it. The best you can do, report the guy to the conseiller at the sector office and promise to testify at the trial."

The man who hadn't killed anyone yet said, "Fatha, when is that happen? I read in Imvaho they have one hundred twenty-four thousand in prisons waiting for trials. In how many years will it be for this man that kill my family? Imvaho say two hundred years to try all of them."

Terry said, "Is the guy bigger than you are?"

"No, he's Hutu."

"Walk up to the guy," Terry said, "and hit him in the mouth as hard as you can, with a rock. You'll feel better. Now make a good Act of Contrition for anything you might've done and forgot about." Terry could offer temporary relief but nothing that would change their lives.

Penitents would kneel on a prie-dieu and see his profile through a framed square of cheesecloth mounted on the kneeler: Fr. Terry Dunn, a bearded young man in a white cassock, sitting in a wicker chair. Sideways to the screen he looked at the front yard full of brush and weeds and the road that came up past the church from the village of Arisimbi. He heard Confession usually once a week but said Mass, in the school, only a few times a year: Christmas Day, Easter Sunday and when someone died. The Rwandese Bishop of Nyundo, nine miles up the road, sent word for Fr. Dunn to come and give an account of himself.

He drove there in the yellow Volvo station wagon that had belonged to the priest before him and sat in the bishop's office among African sculptures and decorative baskets, antimacassars in bold star designs on the leather sofa and chairs, on the wall a print of the Last Supper and a photograph of the bishop taken with the pope. Terry had worn his cassock. The bishop, in a white sweater, asked him if he was attempting to start a new sect within the Church. Terry said no, he had a personal reason for not acting as a full-time priest, but would not say what it was. He did tell the bishop, "You can contact the order that runs the mission, the Missionary Fathers of St. Martin de Porres in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and ask to have me replaced; but if you do, good luck. Young guys today are not breaking down the door to get in the seminary." This was several years ago. Terry left the bishop shaking his head and was still here on his own.

This afternoon the prie-dieu was placed beneath a roof of palm fronds and thatch that extended from the rectory into the yard. A voice raised against the hissing sound of the rain said, "Bless me, Fatha, for I have sin," and started right in. "I kill seven people that time I'm still a boy and we kill the inyenzi, the cockroaches. I kill four persons in the church the time you saying the Mass there and you see it happen. You know we kill five hundred in Nyundo before we come here and kill I think one hundred in this village before everybody run away."

Terry continued to stare at the yard that sloped down to the road, the clay hardpack turned dark in the rain.

"And we kill some more where we have the roadblock and stop all the drivers and look at the identity cards. The ones we want we take in the bush and kill them."

The man paused and Terry waited. The guy wasn't confessing his sins, he was bragging about what he did.

"You hear me, Fatha?"

Terry said, "Keep talking," wondering where the guy was going with it.

"I can tell you more will die very soon. How do I know this? I am a visionary, Fatha. I am told in visions of the Blessed Virgin saying to do it, to kill the inyenzi. I tell you this and you don't say nothing, do you?"

Terry didn't answer. The man's voice, at times shrill, sounded familiar.

"No, you can't," the voice said. "Oh, you can tell me not to do it, but you can't tell no other person, the RPA, the conseiller, nobody, because I tell you this in Confession and you have the rule say you can't talk about what you hear. You listen to me? We going to cut the feet off before we kill them. You know why we do it? You are here that time, so you understand. But you have no power, so you don't stop us. Listen, if we see you when we come, a tall one like you, we cut your feet off, too."

Terry sat in his wicker chair staring out at the rain, the pale sky, mist covering the far hills. The thing was, these guys could do it. They already had, so it wasn't just talk, the guy mouthing off.

He said, "You going to give me my penance to say?"

Terry didn't answer.

"All right, I finished."

The man rose from the kneeler and in a moment Terry watched him walking away, barefoot, skinny bare legs, a stick figure wearing a checkered green shirt and today in the rain a raggedy straw hat with the brim turned down. Terry didn't need to see the guy's face. He knew him the way he knew people in the village by the clothes they wore, the same clothes they put on every morning, if they didn't sleep in them. He had seen that green shirt recently, only a few days ago . . .

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