Father Santiago Torres, headmaster of Gonzaga High School in Washington, D. C. is having a bad week. Inspired by a remark made during a debate over the appropriateness of Huckleberry Finn in the curriculum and a speech by the Attorney General, he created a national controversy by trying to desegregate his school a little more. He's been seen acting deranged -- even threatening another priest. He's tied to a few mysterious deaths. The press is hounding him. His best friend may have killed himself (Santi can't believe that). If he didn't kill himself, his best friend might have just dragged Santi into a decades-old conspiracy. And somehow he's found himself as the caretaker to a chicken.
Now, a lot of this could be attributed to the stress and grief that came from his friend's death. Which is what most people want to believe, including the Father's FBI Agent brother. But what if there really is a conspiracy that he's on the verge of uncovering?
The clues that will prove -- or disprove -- Father Torres are all over the District of Columbia, and are rooted in the deep history of the area. To find the answers he needs, the Father will have to leave the halls of academia and get his hands dirty searching for them. Which will take a combination of wits, luck and an obsession with Washington history.
Barrett's writing moves steadily, and keeps you trying to guess along with the Father (which only works by Barrett educating the reader in the minutiae of D.C. history), while he watches his life fall apart.
The characters -- particularly the secondary characters -- are well-developed, reacting in a relatable way to the circumstances they find themselves in. A couple of the villains of the piece might as well have twirled their mustaches at a few points, but otherwise it seems that Torres is trying to take down people truly convinced they're doing the right thing.
It's well-paced, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. Not fantastic, but The Odd Fellows Society is a satisfying read.
I do have one gripe -- and it's what keeps me from being enthusiastic in my recommendation of the book. I can buy the mild-mannered pried becoming an action hero of sorts. I can deal with a priest who struggles with his call, with the limitations it puts on him, and with some of his Church's dogma (although we need to see the struggle more). I can even deal priest who struggles with lust, although Santi doesn't seem to struggle so much as regret and enjoy it. There's something about these attributes in this particular character that just doesn't work for me. Maybe it's just the frequency of the profanity and how casual he is about it -- including using the name of Jesus as an expletive -- that trips me up. I'm sure Roman Catholic priest cuss occasionally -- but he does it a lot, including around other priests who don't react. You mix that with his pro forma resistance to lust...and he's just not that convincing as a priest. Santi's a great quiet, humble, educator, who finds himself in over his head with a murder investigation. But as a priest? I couldn't buy it. I know he had to be a priest because of the schools involved, but there had to be a better way to make him a priest.
It's a problem that can be ignored while reading, most of the time, anyway (if other readers even have the same complaint). And if you can ignore it, the book holds up pretty well.
The Odd Fellows Society is the kind of thing that should appeal to those who've liked the Robert Langdon books, but would appreciate something written better (and, it seems, researched better). Or for those who liked the National Treasure movies, but would like a non-Nicholas Cage character. I look forward to seeing what's next from Barrett.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for a review. Hopefully this one hasn't bugged him enough that he'll avoid me with his next novel.