Parishioner, a new eBook from the prolific Walter Mosley, introduces Xavier Rule, sometimes called Ecks, sometimes Egbert Noland, a gangster from New York now living in Los Angeles. He is in the process of reforming his life through the agency of an independent church—more cult than church–for criminal types, run by a self styled minister called Father Frank. Rule is an introspective streetwise character who can be found just as easily reading Camus as breaking into a house trying to get information. He is as likely to put a bullet in someone he doesn’t trust, as he is to have coffee with him. He can even be sensitive with the right lady. He is smart, powerful, and gets things done, a perfect kind of hero or anti-hero (depending on your point of view) for a thriller.
Father Frank is another story, an enigmatic figure who runs his church very much like a cult leader. He is an autocratic figure who gives orders and assignments which are to be followed without question by his church members. He seems to have powerful connections he can call upon and manipulate when problems arise. He and his parishioners are not to be bound by the niceties of the official legal system. They do their own judging and punishing. So when a young woman comes to him looking for help finding three young men who years ago she had helped to kidnap from a daycare facility to be farmed out for adoption, and he gives the assignment to Rule, Ecks, despite some qualms, agrees to help.
It doesn’t take long for him to discover that the girl’s story isn’t quite as simple as it seemed, and the more he learns the stranger and more dangerous his assignment gets. Before he knows it he is drugged and attacked with a baseball bat; he finds himself helping a young porn actor, and witnessing a double murder. And these are only a few examples. This is a novel with plenty of action.
That said, there is so much going on and so many characters running through the story that things get confusing. Too many of the minor characters are little more than names. Their motivations are rarely explained. Even Rule’s back story is never explained in any real detail. He did bad things. His friend and ex-partner is dying of cancer, but the bulk his life in the East is sketched in hints and innuendos never in narrative detail. Father Frank, on the other hand, is never explained at all. We never learn why he wants to help the girl find the young men. We never find out why the various members of the church are so completely willing to do his bidding. In fact, often we learn more about lesser characters than we do about him.
In the end, although I’m long a fan of Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series, Parishioner was something of a disappointment. It’s not so much that the book was a terrible read; it’s just that when I see the name Walter Mosley, it raises great expectations. Okay doesn’t cut it when you’re expecting great.