Gil Martins, an agent with the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Unit in Houston, sees the violence wrought by extremists of all kinds. Gil has always been on the side of justice—until he learns something that shakes his faith in the system, in himself, and in God. Desperate, he prays, begging to know God is there. When a serial killer begins targeting the morally righteous at the same time that a number of secular icons come under attack, Gil realizes that his prayers are being answered in a most terrifying way.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
ST. ANDREW’S CATHEDRAL,
APRIL 5, 1988
It was a bright cold day, but as if it were midsummer, I had given up my usual gray clothes of lambswool and thick flannel, and had been dressed for innocence in white cotton like all of the other children in the cathedral.
I was trembling, but not just because of the freezing temperature in St. Andrew’s; I was also trembling because there was a mortal sin in my heart—or so I imagined.
The gray stone interior soared above my neatly combed hair like the hall of some ancient castle, and the air was filled with the smell of candles and incense. As the church organ played and the weak voices of the choir mumbled strange words that might have been Latin, I walked slowly and reverently up the center aisle toward the Friar Tuck–size bishop with my small, sweaty palms pressed together as if I were a little saint—although in my own eyes I was anything but that—just the way my mother had shown me.
“You do it like this, Giles,” she had said, showing me exactly how. “As if you were trying to press something very flat in your hands that you must hold close to your face so that the tips of the fingers are just touching your lips.”
“You mean like Joan of Arc, when they burned her at the stake,” I asked.
My mother winced.
“Yes. If you like, Giles. But if we think about it, I’m sure you can find a nicer example than that, can’t you?”
“How about Mary Queen of Scots?”
“Someone who’s not on their way to execution, perhaps. Please try to think of someone else, Giles. A saint, perhaps.”
“Surely the saints are only saints because they were martyrs first,” I argued. “That means most of them were executed, too.”
My mother made an exasperated face. “You’ve got an answer for everything, Giles,” she muttered.
“A soft answer turns away wrath,” I said. “But grievous words stir up anger. Proverbs 15:1.”
Quoting the Bible was a useful trick I had learned in Bible class. We had to learn a text every week, and it hadn’t taken me long to work out that quoting from the Bible also had the effect of silencing critical adults. More usefully, it had the effect of deterring the unwelcome attentions of Father Lees. He tended to leave me alone out of fear of the text that I might utter when confronted with his priestly hands—as if God were speaking to him directly through my innocent mouth. Because of my knowledge of the Bible, my father called me Holy Willie and sometimes “precocious,” and told my mother that in his opinion teaching children what was in the Bible was a bad thing. She ignored him, of course, but in retrospect I think Dad was right. There’s a lot in the Bible that shouldn’t ever have been translated from the Latin or the Greek.
A long line of us boys and girls shuffled up the nave of the cathedral. We must have looked like one of those Korean Moonie weddings where hundreds of couples get married at once.
Of course, this was not my child wedding but my own confirmation—the moment I was to declare my desire to renounce Satan and all his works, and to become a Roman Catholic—and, for everyone else in the cathedral of St. Andrew’s, it seemed to be a very happy day. Everyone else except me, perhaps, because there was something about the ceremony I didn’t like; not just the pansy white shirt and shorts and school tie—which were bad enough—but something else, too; I think you could say I had a feeling of deep foreboding, as if something terrible were about to happen that was not unconnected with the commission of the possibly mortal sin I was contemplating.
I was twelve years old and being precocious meant I was also possessed of “a bit of an imagination”; that was how my parents described children like me who exaggerated some things and lied about others. Certainly, I had my own ideas about almost everything. These ideas were sometimes influenced by what I had read in a book or seen on television, but more often than not, they were simply the result of deep and often wrong juvenile thinking that was at least the product of an independent mind; any lies I did tell were usually told with good intent.
Thanks to Father Lees, I had been well schooled in the Roman Catholic catechism and in the meaning of confirmation, which you can read all about in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter two. Every Wednesday for the last month I’d been taken to Bible class where Father Lees had told us how, shortly after Pentecost, the apostles had been hiding away in some locked room because they were afraid of the Jews, when suddenly they heard a noise that sounded like the wind but was, in fact, the sound of the Holy Ghost. Next, small tongues of fire appeared like little blue butane-gas cigarette-lighter flames above the heads of the disciples and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak in foreign languages that, according to my older brother, Andy, was not unlike what happens in The Exorcist.
Now, I didn’t like ghosts and ghost stories any more than I would care to have been left alone in a locked room with Father Lees, and I certainly didn’t care for the idea of having any spirit—holy or otherwise—come inside my body and light me up “like a little candle for Jesus,” which was how the creepy priest described it to us in Bible class. In fact, the idea terrified me. Nor did I much like the possibility that I might never again be able to speak English, but only some baffling language like Chinese or Swahili that nobody else in Glasgow would be able to understand. Not that Glaswegians are easy to understand themselves; even other people from Scotland have a hard job with the accent and the lack of consonants. Speaking the English language as it is spoken in Glasgow is like learning to spit.
So I had made a plan that was going to save me from the strong risk of ghostly possession and speaking in tongues—a secret plan I discussed with no one other than my own conscience (and certainly not my mother) and that I now put into action.
When it was my turn to be confirmed, I knelt in front of the bishop and, as soon as he had anointed my forehead and slapped my face with his nicotine-stained fingers—rather harder than I’d been expecting—to symbolize how the world might treat me because of my faith, and Father Lees had given me the red grape juice and wafer that was the blood and body of Jesus Christ, I stepped around the granite pillar of the church and, while everyone’s eyes were on the boy immediately behind me who was now being confirmed, quickly wiped the holy oil off my forehead and spat the dry wafer off the roof of my mouth into my handkerchief.
One of my school friends saw me do this, and for quite a while afterward my nickname was “the heretic,” which I rather enjoyed. It gave me a wicked, worldly aspect that I fancied made me seem sophisticated. Apparently unconsumed hosts—which is what you call the wafer when you don’t actually swallow it—are very useful for the commission of satanic rites or devil worship. Not that I was interested in worshipping the devil. I think that even then—and possibly thanks to Father Lees—I saw God and the devil as opposite sides of the same grubby coin, although for a long time I think I managed to make a pretty good fist of being a good Christian.
Now, it’s said that no sin goes unpunished, and my own evil act was certainly punished because as I pulled the clean, folded white square of handkerchief from my trousers into which I was preparing to gob the body of Christ, something fell out of my pocket, though I wasn’t aware of it at the time. This was my new St. Christopher’s medal, made of solid Hebridean silver, a commemorative gift from my mother that was engraved with my initials—including the initial of the saint’s name I had taken for my confirmation, which was John, who was the brother of James, and which was my own baptismal name—and the date of my confirmation. The medal was distinctive in several other respects, too; my mother had had the medal specially designed by Graham Stewart, who became, eventually, quite a famous Scottish silversmith. I even know what it looks like, because my brother still has the St. Christopher’s medal from his own confirmation, which took place a couple of years before mine: the head of St. Peter is a copy of a drawing by the celebrated artist Peter Howson.
Of course, the loss of the silver medal was soon discovered, and although my mother never found out the exact and probably blasphemous circumstances that accompanied its disappearance, for a while I was obliged to pray every night that I might find it again.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Philip Kerr
PRAYER “Kerr has an unteachable gift for suspense.” — USA Today
“Tantalizingly creepy.” — The Observer “Here moral complexity is raised to a new high in a contemporary psychological thriller that is eerily terrifying and disturbing”
— Library Journal, starred review
“A real page-turner that may just have everyone rethinking the monumental power that faith can provide or…take away in the blink of an eye.” —Suspense Magazine
“Provocative... Evocative phrasing is another plus in this exceptional thriller.” —Publishers Weekly
“A compelling and unsettling change of pace for the popular Kerr.”
“A fright-filled meditation on faith…The book entertains and makes you think.” —Dallas Morning News
“Prayer brilliantly explores the world of God, guns and the nature of goodness without sacrificing suspense or story.”
— Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A rum beast that uses the cosy familiarity of the thriller form to buttress a fantastical supernatural plot...As fans of his Berlin-set Bernie Gunther novels will know, Kerr is a details man. His deep-level research brings Houston and its environs to dusty, sun-bleached life. Martins’ narration, too, is deftly handled –Prayer demands to be read more than once.” —The Guardian
“When Kerr goes off-piste, as he does here, the freedom sends his imagination into some very peculiar places. Who else could make a crackling thriller out of the current debate between religion and atheism?...What if the Almighty exists, but is horrible? The story unfolds at a white-knuckle pace, with a sense of the unknown that is genuinely disturbing.” — The Sunday Times
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I cant belive i actually finished reading this. I kept waiting for it to get better. It didnt.
This is a thought provoking and interesting book. Very readable, with a nice twist on things. I'm a big fan of Kerr and h is Bernie Gunther series, and this book is just as well written and entertaining. Why only 3 stars? Kerr comes off here as a European who's only knowledge of US culture comes from radical left media. So in this book he demeans himself by constantly talking down Christians, Texans, conservatives, and watchers of Fox News. And what on earth is "Christian nationalism?" Can someone point me to a leader of such of movement, or any such movement at all, other than a couple of wackos in a garage somewhere? No, of course you can't. And he recounts that the people who were involved in getting Apollo 13 back to earth surely weren't interested in prayer or God. Apparently he is unaware of the first trip tot he moon, Apolllo 8, which also had the future commander of Apollo 13 onboard (Jim Lovell), read from Genesis as they circled the moon. Shame on Kerr for bring down what otherwise is a very fine novel with this low brow, intellectually lazy clap trap. Oh, and he also needs a geography lesson for the US...Galveston, TX, is NOT on the Atlantic Ocean.
Philip Kerr, well known for his nine volume series featuring pre-war, World War 2 and Cold War detective Bernie Gunther, a German, often tackles ethical and spiritual issues in his detective novels and other works. Prayer offers a Scotland born and U.S. raised Gil Martins working on the domestic terrorism cases for the FBI. Beginning with his Scottish first communion, Martins becomes an angry and skeptical Roman Catholic. Marrying an American evangelical and working in Texas, he encounters an assortment of churches and responds to them with a declaration of atheism. Yet, his closest friend is a Roman Catholic bishop who points him to the possibility of a conspiracy relating to the suspicious deaths of outspoken atheists. The possibility of a conspiracy is somewhat confirmed by Martins during his independent investigation and then the FBI, to a very small degree, becomes involved because the deaths occur in several time zones. The stakes are raised because the deaths are not murders but suicides and there is no trace of a killer at the scene of the deaths. Martins' marriage dissolves, his atheism is tested, and Martins comes to grips with the possibility that the evidence is leading him to Old Testament declarations and the possibility that there may be one angel, reserved by God, who carries out judgement. Kerr holds Martins' investigations, Christian faiths, atheism in balance in Prayer and the conclusion is sound and satisfying. The close of novel allows this reader to hope that Gil Martins is heard from again.
PRAYER tells the story of FBI agent Gil Martins as he loses his faith in God and then how he finally finds it once more. He is not a perfect man, nor is he what one would call one of God's heroes. The story begins with Martin finally losing his faith after finding out he helped send an innocent man to death row. As he admits to himself and the world that he has lost his faith, he finally loses his wife who purports to believe in God. She takes his son and moves back with her parents, while telling him to please vacate the premises. When his friend Coogan calls him with a potential new case, he also finds a new place to live in the Galveston area. As he lives here, he finds his faith, finds the killer as well as his chosen profession. In the end, Martin determines that God is not the God we see every day in the media, nor is He the God we hear of in most church sermons. PRAYER is not only a thriller, but serves to remind us that God is real and to be careful for what we ask, as we most often will not like the answer we receive.