|Pastor Stephen Grant, aged 42 when we first meet him, is the pastor at St. Mary's Lutheran Church in Manorville on the East End of Long Island. He has been there for nearly 10 years.
An only child, he had grown up outside Cincinnati and had gone on to read history at Valparaiso University in Indiana, after which he had become a Navy Seal. He then became a CIA analyst (actually an assassin) and part of the security detail for the US Olympic team at Barcelona where his friend was viciously murdered by "former KGB spook Boris Krikov" who, in turn, gets shot by Stephen with a bow and arrow! He was also an expert marksman with a handgun and a rifle, not to mention a combat knife, and he still keeps a small armoury in his gun cabinet - and still feels a "red alert" ("a feeling of tightness in his head and ears") when danger threatens. And he is still very ready to use force if necessary.
He "thought of himself as trying - and often struggling - to get it right as a faithful, traditional Christian." But he had a mischievous streak and "enjoyed being a theological shit stirrer - tweaking those who disagreed with him along the way." He falls into the Catholic rather than the Protestant side of Lutheranism and is "traditional when it comes to the Bible, worship and the culture." He sees "a great opportunity for Lutheranism as a kind of bridge between Catholics and Protestants" but is "frustrated by the internal squabbling among .... fellow Lutherans." He is described as "too good-looking for a pastor, but has learnt to keep his sexual feelings under control.
Ray (J) Keating has a graduate degree in economics. He became chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council and a weekly columnist with Long Island Business News, as well as an adjunct professor in the MBA program at the Townsend School of Business at Dowling College. He is a board member of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. His writing has appeared in a large range of periodicals, and he self-published non-fiction titles as well as Warrior Monk (reviewed below) which was his first novel. He has gone on to publish further books in the Pastor Stephen Grant series. He is married with two sons and lives on Long Island.
Warrior Monk: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel (2010)
Warrior Monk: a Pastor Stephen Grant Novel revolves around a former CIA assassin, Stephen Grant, who has lived a far different, relatively quiet life as a parish pastor in recent years. However, after he has had to prayerfully shoot dead a woman who had given up nursing to become a witch (!), his "two worlds merged in a flurry of bullets, blood, song and prayer."
Luckily, Stephen is able to discuss his problems with his two best friends; an Episcopal priest and a Roman Catholic one, who saw "no value in the old ecumenical movement, which they felt had degraded into political and social activism" but rejoiced in "a shared, basic orthodoxy." They "increasingly found more in common with each other than with certain factions within their own denominations." All this piety clashes very oddly with the extreme violence of Stephen's 10th killing as described above.
Meanwhile Pope Augustine I, who is about to visit the USA, is launching a scheme that he calls "a Public Mission of Mere Christianity" (taking the title rather surprisingly from the CS Lewis book) in which he urges "traditional, Orthodox faithful from across Christianity to come together to speak with one voice on matters of the faith and culture where Holy Scripture and Church teachings are fundamental, clear and imperative." It "is not a vehicle for political and social activism to supplant the Gospel. It does not place the Roman Catholic Church in a position of leadership, but merely as one of hopefully many participants." And the overall aim is to face up to the challenges of relativism, secularism and the emergence of "a radical arm of Islam".
The Pope's scheme is to arouse much violent opposition, not only from Protestants who are convinced that it is all part of a diabolical attempt by Roman Catholics to take over, but also from extreme Islam militants who are determined to kill the Pope. So perhaps it is not so surprising that Stephen finds himself invited "to stick with the Pope while he's visiting the U.S." to keep him from harm. Stephen has no qualms about returning to a life of violence for there are times for him when even "torture actually can become a moral imperative for a government .... With innocent lives on the line and the opportunity existed to extract information to stop some kind of WMD attack, then refraining from the use of torture in that unique circumstance would tell the world and one's own people human lives are not sacred." And elsewhere we get a graphic description of what a new form of water torture actually involves.
However, despite Stephen's conviction that it was God who had called him to protect the Pope, the unfortunate Pope gets poisoned. There seems surprisingly little fuss about it (in real life it would surely have provided a media field day) although time spent on the Internet "that might provide an insight on the poison" did interfere with Stephen's sermon writing. It all ends in a melodramatic climax when Stephen's burgeoning romance is rudely interrupted by a gunman who bursts in, determined to murder him.
The book is an odd mixture of pious prayers and James Bond type violence and the two do not always gel together very well. As the author insists on giving us word by word renderings of all the prayers and sermons (we are, for example, given the whole of the 23rd Psalm), the pace of the story gets slowed down and at times becomes quite tedious, even though it is broken up into as many as 85 different chapters, and he keeps them all short. He aims to raise questions about "terrorism, war, prayer, public life and the Church, sex and marriage, going to church, ecumenism, and church architecture," and has even published a separate discussion study guide to show us the way!
Although Stephen's President justifiably describes him as "the most intriguing second-career pastor I've ever come across", the combination of theology and extreme violence does not really work. However, I shall be reviewing the fifth book in the series to see if it has got any more credible.
Murderer's Row: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel (2015)
Murderer's Row: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel sees Pastor Stephen Grant appointed as one of the chaplains of a minor-league baseball team - and we are soon given all the words of their pre-match prayers. The man who appointed him, billionaire Mike Vanacore, has hired a security team to rescue young baseball player Dawud Wasem from Iraq where his life was in danger because of his recent conversion to Christianity. As part of this operation, Stephen's ex CIA colleague and one time lover, Paige Caldwell, enjoys dealing with Dawud's Muslim extremist cousin, Malik: "She pulled out a tactical knife strapped to her right thigh, and drove it directly into Malik's reproductive parts. As he screamed out in agony, he fell back, with Caldwell on top of him. She shoved the knife in deeper, and then pulled it to the left, the right and then down. His screams grew louder." The American rescuers seem very pleased with themselves ("I'd like to think that we made some difference by eliminating the bastards we did tonight") but unfortunately for them, Malik survives and soon turns up on Long Island, determined to recapture young Dawud.
Mike has plans to construct a series of new ballparks for which he hopes the government will provide the land. An opponent then commissions three improbable professional assassins, the Streit brothers (one super intelligent, one a sadist who says, "I haven't had this much fun in a long, long time" and the other who is even more simple-minded!), to murder a whole series of victims. Stephen, now happily married to economist Jennifer, agrees to help his ex-CIA colleagues track down the villains. Not surprisingly, he has grown "increasingly angry over the attacks" (there are some 7 deaths), but even though he has no gun, has finally to tackle the armed villains himself, seeming to enjoy cutting them up with a sword, even if later on he does get round to praying for forgiveness.
!f, like me, you know nothing about baseball and care even less, this story is not for you. It combines a few exciting if very violent action sequences (slightly reminiscent of James Bond but with more violence and without his saving humor) with interminable conversations, that are now less concerned with theology than with what sound like the author's own political views (a character argues "against government subsidies for private businesses" and Jennifer explains, "The problem is when government gets involved and perverts things").
There are so many characters that it all gets rather confusing - and it is not always easy to sympathise with people like Paige who happily confronting Malik, "put three bullets in his chest, and before the life drained from his eyes, one more in his head" and then boasted "I feel good about what we accomplished today." It seems a very simplistic way of looking at the world. And Stephen, who plays a smaller role in this story, still makes a very unlikely pastor.
The Stephen Grant books have their own website where you can even buy Stephen Grant T-shirts, and the author has his own blog. There is also an interesting interview with him on the seriousreading site.
Please sign my GUEST BOOK. All comments, contributions (or corrections) welcomed!
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