Fr Michael Brisson, LC

Death in Black and White: A Mystery Novel Penned by a Priest

Death in Black and White by Father Michael Brisson, LC, is a new mystery/thriller novel published by Ignatius Press. The hero of our story is Father Christopher Hart, the new pastor of Saint Dominic’s Church in Westchester, New York. Everything is going along mostly smoothly in Father Christopher’s new role as pastor when one evening he receives an unsettling phone call that brings him into a world he never expected to enter.

Father Christopher is recruited by the Mafia to be the priest du jour in their “White Death” ritual. While the leaders of this organized crime ring have no compunction whatsoever about killing whoever crosses them, they apparently are just pious enough to want to send the condemned to heaven. Enter Father Christopher, who is forced (because you can’t say “no” to the Mafia, can you?) to provide last rites and the Sacrament of Confession to those about to be sent to their eternal reward.

An excellent premise for a novel

I found this idea rather intriguing, and dare I say, delightful. There is just something so whimsical and entertaining about pious mobsters who care about the state of the eternal souls of those they plan to kill. While I found the story started off a little slow, once our good priest was whisked off in a black USV, bag over his head and all, the story picked up quite a bit.

When I first started reading this novel, I was expecting it to be a more along the lines of what is colloquially termed a “cozy mystery,” a light and fun read about an everyday person who stumbles across a dead body and then solves the crime before the police are able to do so. Instead, I encountered a thrilling and at times disquieting novel.

Sexual abuse scandals, adultery, murder, mayhem, deception, betrayal, and mental health struggles: this story has it all. While this is a thrilling mystery, it also is a beautiful story about struggles with sin and temptation, forgiveness and redemption, friendship, God’s Providence, and the ultimate sacrifice. It dives deeply into the human experience and the many facets of the human soul.

Moreover, I found this novel to be entertaining and intriguing. As a laywoman and mother of many children, I have no idea what the priesthood is like. This book gave a rather interesting glimpse into a world I can only observe from the outside. While I am sure most priests do not get tangled up in the Mafia, there are many priests who bring God’s mercy into the darkest recesses of the human heart and the worst sinners into redemption, just as Father Christopher does in this novel.

Yet, our hero does not always act in the most heroic ways possible. What is so beautiful about this story is that God’s redemption is brought about not through a perfect saint, but rather an imperfect sinner: an ordinary priest who struggles with temptation and sin, just like the rest of us. This book is a powerful, page-turning reminder that anyone can be an instrument of God’s grace, love and mercy and that God’s redemption is available to all.

Recommended reading

If you enjoy mystery stories, I highly recommend this book. Personally, I am hoping Father Michael Brisson will write more mystery novels featuring Father Christopher Hart in the future. I would look forward to reading them.

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