MIKE JONES with LEONIE JONES The Reparation: The Transgressions Cycle Book Three. Reviewed by Lou Murphy
This third instalment of the Trangressions Cycle is Australian Gothic horror at its gruesome best.
Welcome to the church of St Agnes, where truths are whispered and the voices of the dead struggle to be heard.
Spanning the years 1946 to 1952, The Reparation follows the story of Father Christopher Moriah, a young Anglican priest. Leaving London behind to follow his duty at the parish of St Agnes in Sydney, he is asked by his superior and mentor, Dean Whitmore, to ‘help set things right’ with the parish. As the senior clergyman of the diocese, Whitmore proves himself more ambitious than humanitarian, displaying a lack of empathy for the congregation of Christopher’s church:
‘… St Agnes. Patron saint of gardeners, virgins and rape victims.’ The dean gave a shrug as if he found that combination of causes mildly amusing. ‘Not a typical name for an Anglican parish but, nonetheless, it’s one we are committed to …’
The church is located in a poor area, and its members struggle with alcoholism, gambling addiction, drugs, and prostitution. But the tangible problems of St Agnes mask much darker secrets of corruption, violence and murder, and the place ripples with the ghostly presences of the buried. Readers of Book 2 of the series will recognise some of these, including the grave of a whaler killed at sea.
Part of Whitmore’s master plan is to restore the church to its former glory by deconsecrating the churchyard and subsequently reclaiming the land. These plans were supported by Father Christopher’s predecessor, Father Peter Shroud, who Whitmore insinuates died of alcoholism. What initially seems a straightforward opportunity for Father Christopher to improve on the community of St Agnes and establish himself as a forward-thinking priest turns into something far more sinister. He starts to hear the call of the dead;
Each time he passed through the graveyard he noticed new names, new monuments to the deceased. He made an effort to become familiar with them, to know them by sight, connecting the unique elements of their gravestones to the names of the buried and the dates of their lives. Christopher had spent most of his life around such places but he could not help the tingling on his skin at the eeriness of St Agnes’. He rubbed at his arms to warm them against the approaching chill …
Struggling to connect with his brethren and unsuccessful in allaying their suspicions that he is a mere puppet of the institution of the church, Christopher starts to question the wisdom of the planned reclamation works. His enquiries are unwelcome to the Dean and to the slippery businessman associated with the project, Mr Xavier Smythe. An entrepreneur and a thug with a penchant for opium, Smythe harbours ghosts of his own. In a seedy opium den in Sydney’s Chinatown we share in his intoxicated vision;
… as his ﬁngers unfurled he saw a hand reach out to his from the ground. Pale and skeletal, its ﬁngers extended like slow-moving spider’s legs. Smythe wanted to recoil but his body felt encased in molasses, moving too slowly. The deathly hand from the ground reached out to grab at him and he recoiled. Another hand pushed up from the earth. Then another. And another. With the headstones gone, the dead had nothing to hold them down. In his dreams they crawled through the slippery soil to ﬁnd him …
Meanwhile, Christopher has been struggling with his own haunting – namely the humming of ghosts that leads him to the discovery of strange rope marks on a tree and the reoccurring vision of a young girl holding a small posy of purple amaranth flowers. He bravely battles crippling claustrophobia and increasingly nightmarish visions:
… In the hallway ahead appeared an image that stole the air from his throat. A girl, pale-skinned and almost luminescent in the dark. Wide eyes. Mouth gagged with cloth tied about her head. A white cardigan wrapped around her torso like a straitjacket, bloodstained and lashing her arms to her body in a terrifying embrace …
When the real and imagined collide with a force as compelling as it is dangerous it is up to Christopher to avenge the past. But in order to do so he must first confront his own demons. Restitution must come before restoration. Nothing can be left behind. Not even the abandoned. Especially not the abandoned …
Mike Jones with Leonie Jones The Reparation: The Transgressions Cycle Book Three Simon & Schuster 2015 ebook 272pp $5.99
Lou Murphy is the author of the crime novel Squealer, available from http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/LouMurphy