Verdict: THIS MADNESS OF THE HEART is an adventurous and richly-drawn mystery, with the age-old primal conflict between love and hate at its core.
Miranda Lambert is a student and professor of religion, who is inspired by deep faith and energetic, heartfelt worship. But Jasper Jarboe, head of Grace & Glory Bible college, preaches a nasty, hateful, vicious brand of Christianity for which Miranda can find no sympathy. When a promising young art student is murdered, Jarboe turns his vituperative attacks on Miranda’s colleague and close friend, art professor Marinja “Djinn” Baude. Djinn thinks that Jarboe himself is to blame for the student’s death – and Miranda finds her evidence more and more convincing. But can Miranda untangle the threads of a crime involving an old family curse, a secret religious fellowship, a business partnership gone sour, and family relationships embittered at their roots before it’s too late for Djinn – or her?
Francisco may be familiar to readers of her Yeshua’s Cats series, in which she explores the life and teachings of Jesus from the viewpoint of the cats who interacted with him. The feline touch is, sadly, less prevalent in this book (represented only by Miranda’s cats Shiva and Shakti), but the lyrical poetry of her writing remains, aimed now at the beauties of the Appalachian wild and the warmth and strength of its people. While Jarboe fits many of the nastiest stereotypes of the fundamentalist preacher, he is not the only representative of rural fundamentalist religion in the book, and others – particularly his retired predecessor, Elmus Rooksby – show themselves as models of warmth, generous love, and human kindness.
Francisco’s characters may speak in dialect, but they are not one-dimensional or caricatured, and they are treated with respect and deep affection by their author. The story itself is vigorous and lively – some of the plot twists may be a bit predictable, but there are certainly enough of them to keep the story moving and the reader engaged from beginning to end. There is just enough supernatural spookiness to the book to add a delicious chill without going overboard. At its heart, though, the book centers around its characters and their relationships, whether intimate family relationships destroyed by bitterness, cruelty and greed, or relationships build through love and understanding between people from wholly different worlds.
THIS MADNESS OF THE HEART is an adventurous and richly-drawn mystery, with the age-old primal conflict between love and hate at its core.