|Rev Dr Tony Hook is the pastor of First Baptist, a traditional black church in Belton, "perhaps the only suburban community in America where black per capita income exceeds white per capita income". He is the narrator throughout. His parents had both come from the Caribbean. His father was a minister and was now Bishop Hook, but Tony had not spoken to him "since the day I took this church rather than accept his offer of one four times larger in his organisation. We never really spoke much before either."
When he was 25 he had been an accountant, newly married, "on the primrose path to prosperity", little realising that he was to lose his wife and young son in a car accident. He had subsequently gone to Divinity School (maybe "to confront God, but when I did I ended up falling in love with Him") and had gone on to serve for five years as Protestant chaplain at the New Jersey State Maximum Security Prison. His ambition now is to become pastor of the higher-paid Monumental Baptist Church in Newark. Meanwhile he is "having a hard time honouring the promise I made to myself ten years ago not to get seriously involved with a woman again until I have my own house. I miss having someone to come home to at night. I want a family again."
He also writes short stories about a pastor detective, Rev Snoop, but insists, rather unconvincingly, that he himself is "a pastor, not a private eye." He seems to have quite a lot in common with the author.
A Jesus Wrighter (real name Earl L Middleton) earned a BBA in accounting from Adelphi University and an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. A former pastor of congregations in NY, NJ, CT, and CA, he tells us that he had been estranged from his parents for many years. Then In January 1996 he 'heard the audible voice of God .... It was only one word, but it was clear: WRITE!". Since then he has worked his way through 16 years of manuscript revisions and produced over 400 You Tube teaching videos. He became the author of a whole series of non-fiction books, including Overcoming Parent Rejection and Hurts, Yo Pastor: Controversial Biblical Advice for 70 Contemporary Dilemmas (all published under his real name) and went on to develop fiction titles including Off the Hook, reviewed below.
He describes himself as a socially awkward pastoral failure who loves being alone in crowds and who "has never gotten along with stuffy parishioners but tramples over their traditions at every opportunity." He retired from the pastorate after 22 years of service. A longtime member of Mensa, he lives in Los Angeles with his family.
Off the Hook (2012)
Off the Hook is set in the Newark suburb of Belton, NJ, where Rev. Dr. Tony Hook, the financially strapped pastor of the village's only black church, is conscripted by the village administration to help them attract more whites to the village!
When the sexy Anemone Allon's body turns up in her basement naked, sporting a hole through the head, the only evidence recovered from the scene is Hook's DNA, and all he can offer for an alibi is that he was alone in his study, yelling at God. Admittedly, Tony had had to prie her hand "out of my pants just five hours ago". It turns out that she was a prostitute who used to blackmail her clients, something he doesn't mention in his funeral homily: "I planned to give Anenome no more than three minutes of my best whoop because when it's done right it's so physically taxing and I want to save something for Sunday, but when I scrape my hankie across my brow and step back from the pulpit the entire congregation combusts into a spontaneous expression of ecstasy. So I keep going. I can't resist .... They want to release their reigned in emotions, so it's my job to help them do it with some verbal direction", so they are soon all "bucking and stomping in the aisles and pews." It's nothing if not a lively description.
Attractive detective Sgt. Chris Sears (whom he had dated at college where they had "managed to do the bump in forty-seven of the one hundred and sixty buildings on the five-hundred acre campus") sets her sights on him as her prime suspect, jeopardizing his secret candidacy for the much higher-paying Newark pulpit, and Hook launches his own investigation into the murder, despite being constantly threatened by a stream of such threatening messages as "Get out or else I will blow you away."
Hook has to resist witchcraft, brave fire, dodge bullets, survive explosions, and tame ravenous beasts to track down the killer, but faced with imminent attack he does "the only thing a man of God should do when he's cornered by bad guys in what is supposed to be a house of worship. I crouch into a fighting stance like I saw Caine do so many times as a kid watching Kung Fu .... My father would probably let these punks beat him to a pulp in the name of turning the other cheek, but I believe it's more like Jesus to avoid getting hit in the cheek in the first place." But he is not prepared to compromise with what he regards as Biblical teaching, so when someone dies, he pronounces "If he didn't know Jesus, he's in hell."
It makes a tough, very down to earth story, interesting largely because of its portrayal of a vigorous black community. Tony is well aware that "the truth is some preachers aren't on any better speaking terms with God than the rest of the world's sinners," and that there can be black as well as white bigots, as when he disapproves of a restaurant where the black owner would let "only black entertainers perform and only black maitre d' s and managers are hired to oversee all-black staff." Twice he is reminded that "this ain't some mystery story, Doc. This is real." But when it comes to the more melodramatic parts, it still sounds remarkably like a mystery story. And the ebook is not helped by frequent odd and inconsistent uses of font size and type of the sort shown below:
The author has his own website and entry on Smashwords.
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