FBI agent’s investigation of murderous Houston megachurch turns ‘Prayer’ from mystery novel into thriller

The cover of “Prayer.”

Philip Kerr is an author of a variety of historical and techno thrillers known for their realistic detail – Britain’s Michael Crichton.

Many of his books are part of a series about a detective in Nazi-era Germany, and are known for the vast amount of research put into them. Kerr goes out of his way to support each plot with enough detail to make it plausible, and his book “Prayer” is no exception.

The story begins with FBI agent Gil Martins investigating a series of deaths of prominent atheist authors and political figures. Although these deaths, in and of themselves, are nothing out of the ordinary, his friend, a Catholic priest, has convinced Martins to look more closely.

After persuading his superiors that the number of suspicious fatalities would qualify the case as domestic terrorism, Martins is given the green light to investigate. As he does, he gradually begins to believe that the deaths are intentional and connected. But while Martins develops a  personal attachment to his case, traveling from state to state, he distances himself from family, friends, and the other aspects of his job.

Journal entries and video diaries of victims eventually link the murders to a Houston megachurch. But then the FBI insists Martins drop the case to come back and focus on other work. Motivated by a personal desire for answers, the protagonist abandons his job entirely and breaks off contact with his friends to seek justice.

At this point, the core mystery becomes fundamentally different from the typical thriller. Without spoiling anything, it’s possible to say a bit more about the book.

The genre abruptly shifts when Martins takes the investigation of the church one step too far; he begins to fear for his own life. Here, it changes from a whodunit to outright horror, and the entire plot is turned on its head. From that point on, I couldn’t put it down.

What makes the final act truly terrifying is that by vividly painting his world from cover to cover, selling each page, Kerr makes the reader believe it all might really happen.

That said, the conclusion will be more satisfying to people that are open to the possibility of the supernatural.

By Garrett Shonkwiler

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