A thriller with references to news events and media

For some readers, the crime thriller The Priestly Murders by Greg Van Arsdale should bring into memory (and mind) the 1980s Franciscan priest murders in the western U.S. and the string of clergy homicides in recent years, particularly in Kenya, Mexico, and the Philippines. 

The Priestly Murdersshould also appeal to avid readers of novels about the mafia and organized crime (take note that the author shares the same surname of one of the characters in The Godfather Returns, published in 2004), as well as thrillers, such as Primal Fear by William Diehl. 

The book also throws a slight reference to the Catholic Church’s opposition to gay behavior, gay suicide, and, to a little extent, the movies Sister Act and John Wick. Bibliophiles and cinephiles will be quick to point out the references or relate certain aspects of The Priestly Murdersto news/history events, books, and films, and real-life and fictional examples. 

What “The Priestly Murders” is all about?

A string of priestly murders rocks the city, the first of which is committed by Kevin Larkin, the son of crime boss Lars Larkin. What is the motivation for the crime? 

Kevin commits the murder to spite his religious hypocrite father. Lars’ religious façade has driven Kevin toward militant atheism. “Your hypocrisy convinced me there is no God,” Kevin tells Lars during their confrontation, “and that religion is useless.” 

Unfortunately, for Kevin, twelve-year-old Peter Scofieldhas witnessed the murder and barely escaped with his life. His mother reports to the police, and ex-Special Forces Detective Dan Franco is assigned to the case, as well as to protect Peter. For Dan to work on the case, Peter is sent to live with a postulate Sister Nancy Martingalein a convent. 

Lars is tipped off about Dan and Peter by a mole in the police department and sets out to eliminate anyone who knows of Kevin’s involvement in the priest’s murder. However, when he learns of Peter’s psychic abilities, he realizes he could use the boy, so he decides to kidnap him instead. It also happens that Lars isn’t the only one interested in Peter.

It’s not long before another priest is murdered, and another and another. This time, the murders are not committed by Kevin but by a serial killer with a long-standing personal grudge against Catholic priests. At every priestly murder, the killer leaves a certain card. It also seems that the mysterious killer is not content with just killing priests.

In The Priestly Murders, readers will find an exciting read, with its twists and turns and fodder for thought. The novel abounds with the themes of vocation and work – Dan embracing his job as a law enforcer and Peter’s protector, and Peter embracing his gift as a psychic. The book also deals briefly with or hints on the themes of grief and identity.  

The Mafia and the Church

The Priestly Murders somewhat gives readers a glimpse into the relationship between the Mafia (“the Mob”) and the Catholic Church. The Mafia is sometimes referred to as the Italian-American Mafia. 

Readers could point out that most members of the Mafia are or might be cultural or cafeteria Catholics. The Mafia’s supposedly religious façade is not lost on the readers, as such an example is also shown in the 1999 comedy film Analyze This

The novel displays the level of respect and reverence that the Mafia still holds for the Catholic Church. In fact, the Mafia is known to make contributions to Catholic charities and maintain good relationships with the clergy. “A discipline problem does not involve the killing of a priest,” mafioso Don Carducci tells Lars during their meeting in New York. This is attested in the novel when a colleague tells Dan, “…this business with killing priests. It just doesn’t make sense. The Family doesn’t make war on the Church. It’s an unwritten rule.”

For readers who regularly check on the news, they may recall a news item from 2014. Pope Francis, who is a South American of Italian descent, excommunicated Italian Mafia members from the Church. The Pope made this announcement during his one-day visit to Calabria in southern Italy – the heartland of the Mafia. 

“Those who in their life have gone along the evil ways, as in the case of the mafia, they are not with God, they are excommunicated,” said the Pope

About the Author

Greg Van Arsdale was born in Denton, TX, and moved to South Florida in 1972. He attended Samford University on a physics scholarship and graduated with honors. He was highly recruited by the Naval Nuclear Power School to teach nuclear physics and other courses. He joined the Navy in 1981 and taught at the Naval Nuclear Power School for a number of years. 

Along with his ministerial responsibilities, he has been a training manager and then senior project manager (specializing in creating computer systems) for Florida Power and Light in West Palm Beach, Florida. Most recently, he made a career in writing. He has published many fiction and non-fiction books, including The Dual Energy Concept (a revolutionary view of classical Quantum Mechanics equations), Beyond Mere Belief (an application of the Dual Energy Concept to the spirit and soul), The Priestly Murders, and Hijacked on the Alaskan Seas