Book Review: Company Orders
Friday, July 5, 2013 at 10:45AM
Windy City Reviews

Company Orders. David J. Walker. Allium Press of Chicago, September 1, 2012, Trade Paperback and e-book, 324 pages.

Reviewed By Sharon P. Lynn.

Despite having a priest as the main character and being set in Chicago, David J. Walker’s Company Orders is no Father Dowling-type mystery. Walker’s Father Paul Clark isn’t a kindly old pastor with a feisty housekeeper and a spunky young nun as a sidekick. (There is a feisty old pastor who plays a significant role in Father Paul’s life, but he is not the type to shoo away trouble with a dishcloth.)

When we meet Father Paul, he is an up-and-coming young priest who has been noticed by the hierarchy in the Chicago Archdiocese. Father Paul, however, has a secret problem that he must try to resolve without involving the archdiocese – at least not any more than he has already involved it.

This is the central tension of the novel, which is as much thriller as it is mystery. And the threads of the story seem to be widely separated when it begins outside a filthy, frightening, south-of-the border prison. A fearful young man is rescued by a vicious duo, apparently mercenaries. From there, the action moves to Chicago, where Father Paul is finishing early morning Mass at Holy Name Cathedral. As he changes after Mass, we learn Father Paul is troubled by some secret, but the nature of the problem remains elusive as we meet other characters.

There’s the mysterious Ann – is she CIA or something else? – who has some kind of hold on Father Paul and an uncanny way of finding him when he least expects it. And there’s Father Larry, perhaps Father Paul’s only friend, who is attacked in an isolated back alley just as the priests are getting out of a car after a handball game. Is it really a random mugging or is it a warning that Father Paul might be next?

Walker, a former priest, captures interactions between priests that most people don’t see, such as the relationship between Father Paul and his housemate, the elderly Father Jake Kincannon, and Father Jake’s dog, Max. It’s clear in a few words that they look after each other in small ways. Walker also shows us the nature of Father Paul’s relationship with the cardinal who leads the archdiocese, a relationship that is tense, terse and business-like, outward cordiality notwithstanding.

Walker vividly paints the temptations and fears crushing a priest who finds himself in the midst of murder and international intrigue, who feels his connections to his God fraying and stretching, and who learns just what he will sacrifice to protect someone for whom he feels responsible.

The title, Company Orders, is itself a hint of the conflicts that will face Father Paul. Will he take more seriously the “company orders” of a secretive government agency or the “holy orders” of his priesthood? Walker’s novel is well worth the time to find out, and a compelling argument for taking a look at some of his previous work if you haven’t already read his Wild Onion series or Mal Foley series.

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