When Special Agent Gil Martins is approached by his old family friend Bishop Eamon Coogan with information for a potential murder case, he is dubious and impatient: an unfortunate aspect of his job is being continually plagued by wannabe investigators with pointless snippets of evidence. The mysterious deaths of several famous and accomplished atheists seem to have more characteristics in common than Gil thought, and the FBI agree to investigate them.
Gil’s case is initially promising, as he discovers a clandestine organisation which may be behind the series of unexplained deaths. The action is compelling; the advanced terrorist weapons and the FBI’s computer forensics team leave one feeling quite dazed, but it comes to a stand-still when Gil completely renounces his faith.
Having been a Roman Catholic since his childhood days in Glasgow and a regular church-goer since his family moved to the USA, Gil finds it increasingly difficult to perform his FBI duties without wondering why God allows horrific acts of crime to occur (his role on the Domestic Terrorism team means that grisly deaths are just another day at the office for him). The novel quickly becomes more about Gil’s midlife crisis than the ghastly casualties he’s investigating, and the narrative becomes clumsy and muddled.
However, the story is teeming with conflicting ideas about the significance of praying, and the rituals of prayer that are central to the lives of most of Kerr’s characters are unpredictably diverse. The fanatical and sinister religious followers are contrasted with the passive, half-hearted ones, which is what makes Prayer so exciting.
This blend of murder mystery and personal journey is not always entirely fulfilling, but it is thrilling, swift and spooky. It’s rife with creepy houses, sharp humour, the wonders of modern technology, and clashing ideologies of religion and atheism.