Father Fernando O'Neal

(creator: Paul Spike)

Paul Spike
Father Fernando O'Neal is the 32-year-old rector in charge of Holy Innocents Episcopal Church in El Sol, a desert city on the Mexican border. He had been there for 11 months. It is he who tells the story throughout. His dark looks suggested to some people that he might be Mexican, but, in fact he was the son of an Episcopal priest "whose guts I hated", and a Puerto Rican mother who had died of cancer when he was seven years old.

He had joined the church in 1969 to avoid the draft, as this was in the middle of the Vietnam war. "Thus had I embraced God to save my own ass. From the moment of my ordination, at St John's Cathedral in New York City, in 1972, I had experienced what a Hollywood screenplay would call 'grave doubts' about my vocation. It was no accident that I had chosen to accept positions farther and farther west, farther and farther from my Connecticut childhood and my father.

He was married, but his wife, Nancy, had run off with a hippie six weeks after they had arrived in El Sol. He still "believed in God. It was just that, too often, I wished I did not. What I had lost was not belief; my childhood indoctrination made sure I would always believe in God. What I had lost was faith. And my wife."

Paul Spike (1947 - ) grew up in New York's Greenwich Village, but has lived in London for most of his life. He was educated at Columbia College and at St. Catherine's College, Oxford. He is the author of some six books, including Photographs of My Father (1973), an autobiographical account of the murder of his father, civil rights leader Rev. Robert W. Spike. He has written for a wide range of U.K. newspapers and magazines. At one time he was Editor of Punch magazine. Spike has a son and a daughter by author Maureen Freely, and a son by editor Alexandra Shulman, both ex-wives.

Last Rites (1981)
Last Rites is set in 8 days in May 1980 in El Sol, a Sun Belt city of half a million people (most of them poor Mexicans), situated right on the Mexican border. The story starts with Father Fernando conducting the funeral service of his good friend 67-year-old Aaron Anderson, who had been shot in the head with a .38-calibre bullet. Then other killings follow. The only link between the murders that Father Fernando can find is that the victims were all members of the controversial committee to save El Sol, a group fighting to protect the desert and prevent the development of a multi-million-dollar boom town.

Fernando comes to realise that he himself may be a potential target, and it is not long before an attempt is made on his life too. Meanwhile he falls for a raunchy young Mexican stripper, and he drinks too much. It was, he explained, "impossible for me to watch the TV without drinking heavily - and the TV and booze always ended with my listening to music in a drunken haze until I passed out. Blackouts scared me, but not enough to quit drinking."

Fernando is no ordinary priest. Indeed it is difficult to see why he had to be a priest at all. The author seems happiest in providing detailed descriptions of oral and other forms of sex, mixed in with violence. Nancy, who had returned to him, was, we are told, "whimpering with pleasure", when "a hideous orange face" appeared at the window and another attempt was made on Fernando's life. It all builds up to an unlikely climax, in which the murderer turns out to fancy himself as the Aztec God of Spring. It is not a book that has lasted well.

There is very little about the author on the web.

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Last Rites cover
The cover hints at the violence, but not the sex, within.
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