Friday, May 16, 2008

Prosperity Gospel falls on hard times

Note: Ben Rehder's much awaited novel, Holy Moly was released this week. My review was published in both the San Antonio Express News and the Boerne Star.

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Texas Hill Country author Ben Rehder is well-recognized for his satirical and irreverent approach to social issues. Holy Moly, Rehder’s sixth installment of his Blanco County murder mysteries, takes on prosperity theology with a vengeance. His confluence of motley characters in this comedy of errors manages to disassemble an entire Dallas mega-church, strewing chunks of theological waste, murder, and mayhem in its wake.

“Four days before he died, a thirty-year-old backhoe operator named Hollis Farley drove thirty miles to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Marble Falls, Texas, and purchased a four-thousand-dollar sixty-inch plasma television,” writes Rehder in his opening paragraph.

Thus begins a tale of lust, power, avarice and greed that unravels at breakneck speed, littering the Texas Hill Country with remnants of false doctrine.

When Dallas “Pastorpreneur” Peter Boothe begins construction of a massive religious complex on a 16 acre ranch in Blanco County, Hollis Farley signs on as operator of a large backhoe to clear the parcel of land for construction. Unbeknownst to the major players at the time, Farley unearths a valuable sauropod dinosaur fossil. With the realization that his find could be very valuable, he takes pictures of the extinct reptile, drives to the University of Texas in Austin, and seeks out the opinion of a Professor of Paleontology. After determining that the fossil could be worth as much as one million dollars, Farley makes use of the internet on the public library’s computer to find a buyer.

In short order the Hill Country yokel is discovered crushed underneath his eight ton wrecked back hoe. When Blanco County Sheriff Bobby Garza spots something suspicious about the corpse he calls in his buddy Game Warden John Marlin to examine the photos of the body. Garza and Marlin agree that this was no accidental death. Entry and exit wounds were clearly visible in the pictures. But Farley’s mortal wounds were not the result of a fatal gunshot. The shapes of the wounds were distinctly carved by an arrow.

So what righteous Texas citizen would stoop to murder a bumpkin backhoe operator for a dinosaur fossil? Could it be the eccentric geology professor? A rich, outlandish multi-millionaire fossil collector with a peculiar dinosaur fetish? What about the good Reverend Peter Boothe, his greedy assistant Alex Pringle, or maybe even Vanessa, the Reverend’s statuesque trophy wife? The rabid geriatric environmentalist also had motive to kill. Or perhaps it was the avaricious trophy buck breeder, Perry Grange. All of these misguided misfits race through the pages of this hilarious whodunit until the puzzle is solved.

Rehder’s characters are always memorable, as are his satirical plots. His Hiasenesque style is entertaining and fun to read. With Holy Moly, however, the author has tightened up his dialogue and has woven his multiple sub-plots into even more readable scenarios. Rehder successfully entwines greed, avarice, and lust for power with love, romance, and human beneficence. Holy Moly is a story with which the reader can easily identify. The characters are real and recognizable. The plot, no matter how outrageous is, nonetheless, believable. And under the surface of theological cupidity flows redemption and an assurance that no matter how irascible a situation may be, ultimately all will undoubtedly end well.

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