Finally, I get to review a book in my favorite genre: cozy mystery! John Desjarlais masters it well in Bleeder. Reed Stubblefield is a professor on sabbatical. While often used to finish research or publish books, a sabbatical is truly meant to be a time of learning, development, self-improvement. Reed endures life "lessons" that he didn't anticipate in this quiet rural town.
Written for adults, older teens will also appreciate the rich context within which Desjarlais situates his mystery as well as his multi-faceted characters. The protagonist, a religious skeptic, ends up knee-deep in a possible miracle - or is it a hoax? Criticism and misunderstanding of Catholicism are treated realistically and given intellectual critique. In contrast to authors like Regina Doman who integrate classic literature with a poetic effect, Bleeder is equally intellectual but for the philosopher rather than the poet. However, rather than a heady treatment, we are entertained with a continuous theme tying Aquinas to Aristotle in the self-talk and dialogue of characters. This gives it practical application to every day life (great for school assignment). A standard ethical process for decision making is provided that leads to the truth.
Each character in the story is dubious, and the reader sees how easy it is to appear to be a "good" person when not. Some are misguided religious fanatics who perpetuate their own beliefs from within a church community, showing how easily one can think they are following a path of Truth while actually straying into twisted religion. For others, their desire to see a good outcome may lead them to force results regardless of the means taken, forgetting to leave all up to God's will. The outer community also has its struggle with outsiders (immigrants) changing its culture, and the common fears and prejudices that accompany such changes.
At the same time, however, our protagonist is wrestling with serious matters straight out of modern living. Whether it be dealing with the death of his wife, being a victim himself of assault and injury, depression, medical insurance debacles, loss of employment, or relationships with family and love interests, Reed Stubblefield contends with it all. As salt is rubbed in his wounds, he doesn't falter but instead perseveres. An unseeming hero, yet a hero he is when it comes to conquering life's challenges. The author's treatment of loyalty, chaste dating, and self discipline is done in a manner that is very realistic, not idealist, and yet Reed makes the right choices each time.
If I were teaching junior/senior year secondary school (college prep) or lower level college ethics, philosophy or literature, I'd assign this book. What a great way for older teens and young adults to test their own ideas of how to live out Aquinas or Aristotelian ethics. Yet it also provides meaningful conversation for book clubs too. The author smoothly takes his reader into small-town life leaving much to be discussed about the foundations of ignorance and prejudice, true loyalty vs. self-protection.
Of course, putting aside its deeper meanings, as a fast-paced mystery it equally serves the purpose of pure enjoyment for any crowd too!
Just like what we watch on TV or movies, and who we hang out with, books also influence our values and attitudes. Our perspective on life is continually altered from what we read and, through that, so are our choices and behaviours. We are never too old to need a good story where realistic characters struggle with life's challenges and temptations, but end up having the self-discipline to make the right choices. Bleeder is such a story and highly recommended! See our criteria review against character education guidelines at http://www.litland.com/
Desjarlais, John. (2008) Bleeder: A Miracle? Or Bloody Murder?Sophia Institute Press. ISBN: 978-1-933184-56-2. Publisher age recommendation: Adult fiction. Litland recommends age 16 through adult. Not recommended for younger advanced readers.