(creator: James Green)
|James Cornelius Costello (known as Jimmy) had been a corrupt London CID detective sergeant (who had been encouraged to take "early retirement") and altogether a "bad catholic" as described in the first (and possibly the best) book of the series.
"He had been "something special as a detective. He had a mind like a steel trap on wheels, and it only ran in one direction while he was working." He looked "an ordinary sort of man whose face and body looked crumpled, like his clothes. A tired man with sad eyes who had "become a penitent, someone trying to atone for sins". He was "middle aged, of medium height, with a lived-in face and short grizzled hair." But he is always potentially dangerous, at times not just violent but, some said, mad: "He'd do you in without a second thought if you worried him." He is far from being an attractive hero, even if you cannot but admire his drive and dedication. He is in his mid to late fifties.
James Green (1944- ) grew up in Coventry in Warwickshire. He left school at sixteen and, after working as coal-miner, farm-worker, motor-cycle courier and building labourer, qualified as a teacher at St. Mary's College, Twickenham and, like his two brothers, eventually became a Catholic primary school headteacher. During his teaching career he had earned an Open University B.A. and a research M.A. in Education.
In 1997 he left teaching because of ill health to become a full-time writer and has since published numerous books and articles. These include a series of crime thrillers featuring the reformed Catholic gangster, Jimmy Costello, which are (or will be) reviewed below. He then moved on to a series of novels about the development of the US intelligenge services. He is married, had three children (of which two survive) and now lives in Nottinghamshire. He is a practising Roman Catholic. I would welcome a photo of him (please get in touch via my guest book).
Bad Catholics (2008)
The story certainly holds the attention, although there is so much jumping around to different incidents that you need to study the date and location given at the start of each chapter very carefully to avoid confusion. However, the Catholic background rings true and Jimmy's own Catholic experiences as a 12-year-old altar boy come to life, as when after being shouted at by the priest in church, his mother immediately takes him home in protest.But when his mother tries to explain to him that that Jesus had been a Jew, he couldn't believe it: "If God was a Catholic then Mary and Joseph had to be Catholics and Jesus was God's son so He had to be a Catholic."
There are other interesting characters too, such as Sister Philomena who runs the shelter and who had previously been headmistress of a convent school in Uganda at the time of Idi Amin. The soldiers who totally destroyed it and then took the girls off with them were led by a smart young well-educated young captain who, after shooting a young nun in the face, had told her that he was a Catholic: "If I survive all this I shall go to Confession to a suitable priest, say my penance and then begin again to be a good Catholic". For him, even shooting the nun had been one of "God's good little acts" as it had saved her from the attentions of his men. They are certainly arresting events, and it is a book that never fails both to appal and to hold the interest. As for Jimmy, he ends up by fleeing for his life and going off to study for the priesthood! You can't say that nothing happens.
Stealing God (2009)
Despite an interesting start and a strong storyline, with some violent action, it all gets increasingly unlikely. Jimmy "hated crowds, in fact he hated Rome. But then again, what did he like?" But, in a world of violence and corruption, he was stiil "a man to fear". His past as a corrupt policeman is never far away, and he is still torn by the memory of his old fanatical efforts "to be a good Catholic, to be a good husband and father, to be a good parishioner" that clashed so strongly with his life in the CID. This conflict is potentially more interesting - and a lot more realistic - than the machinations of the plot involving not just the removal of the pope but the fixing of the conclave to choose his successor, that would lead to the blaming of Islamic terrorists and "the start of World War Three, with America waving the flag." No wonder Jimmy is left puzzling what he should do next.
Yesterday's Sins (2010)
One way or another, it's a story full of mystery and violent surprises, involving as many as three different secret services. You really never know what is going to happen next, so the interest never flags when Jimmy himself is present. Charlie and his attempts to deceive his wife are sometimes rather less interesting. But the way he gets his eventual come-uppance is another big surprise.
Jimmy still likes to attend Mass regularly - when he can - but he is well aware that "he had never been a good man. He had tried to change, he had tried hard .... His were small talents: a talent for causing pain and a talent for working things out .... He had no talent for big things: for goodness, for sacrifice. Maybe you had to be born with those. He was what he was, and he always would be." He is what Udo describes as an "onion-Catholic": peel away the layers of ritual and the like, and there is nothing there. All Udo (who himself wants to believe but can't) can advise him to do is "find a way to live and then get on with it." But to Jimmy "it wasn't God that was the mystery. It was his bloody sense of humour".
Jimmy's enigmatic female boss at the Collegio Principe in Rome, Professor McBride (whom he refers to as "Attila the Hun's big sister" and says is "about as straight as a spiral- staircase") orders him back to Rome but he happily ignores her and flies to London, determined, with the help of supposed journalist Rosa Sikora, to uncover the murderer. He is very much alone in the world, his missionary priest son having died in Africa, and his daughter and her family living in Australia but, once he is on the trail, he never gives up.
It is another arresting and strong story told with a vigour and humour that holds the interest throughout. It too is very violent, and sudden unexpected death seems always just around the corner. Jimmy may be a "toxic bastard" but he still regularly attends Mass although his religious beliefs seem less and less relevant to the story - or to his behaviour. But he happily explains that when a particularly nasty character committed suicide, she had "put herself outside God's mercy. She was guilty as hell and refused to seek forgiveness so hell is where she'll be now doing hard time and she'll go on doing it for ever. Happy endings all around". But, however unattractive he can be ("He wasn't bent any more, just a bit more broken"), you want to go on reading the series if only to find out what happens next.
|The covers are certainly striking.|