Mortal Sin, by Laurie Breton

>> Sunday, March 21, 2010

TITLE: Mortal Sin
AUTHOR: Laurie Breton

PAGES: 377

SETTING: Contemporary US (Boston)
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: No (although I think there are some characters from a previous book who show up)

REASON FOR READING: Random pick from TBR in Uruguay

Park Square. Mass Ave. The Combat Zone. All home to Boston's sex trade. Home also to runaways and lost souls, home to high rollers and politicians looking for action they can't find anywhere else. It is home, too, for Father Clancy Donovan, who spends his time here trying to get young girls off the street. Bone weary and frustrated, he has lost the joy in his life and has no idea how to get it back.

Divorced three times and not yet thirty-five, Sarah Connolly is trying hard to make a new start when life throws her a curve. Kit, her fifteen-year-old niece, has run away from home, and Sarah will need every ounce of her stubbornness and determination to track her down. Suspecting Kit has disappeared into the Combat Zone, and with no one else to turn to, Sarah appeals to Clancy for help.

The unlikely pair team up to find Kit, but in the process find something else -- something powerful, something unexpected and something that will shake them to their core.
What was it with me and priests these last holidays? Two books with female priests, and then this one, with a Catholic (male, of course) priest.

Sarah Connolly has recently moved to Boston from the South with her teenaged niece, Kit, after the girl's new stepmother refused to accept her. Kit isn't adapting well to her new life and feels no one cares about her so, as the book starts, she runs off.

Sarah is terrified when she discovers Kit is missing and she soon realises the police won't be much help in helping her find a runaway who, from all indications, left voluntarily. At a friend's recommendation, she approaches Father Clancy Donovan, a priest at a Catholic church in the inner-city church who spends much of his time helping young runaways and trying to get them off the streets, especially once they turn to prostitution.

Clancy is nothing like most people's image of a Catholic priest. He hasn't been a priest all that long, and before entering the seminary, he spent many years travelling the world with the Merchant Marine. Clancy is not at all out of his depth in the rough streets of the inner city, and he brings his experience to bear in his work there.

Clancy agrees to help Sarah to help Kit, and they both soon find out that it's not going to be easy, and that Kit may be in grave danger. And as they work together to find the girl, something begins to develop between the two.

This is one dark book, both in tone and subject matter. It's also one that's most probably going to hit some very sensitive hot buttons. Having a Catholic priest as the hero is likely to be a problem for many, especially if they're Catholic themselves. It was actually a bit of a problem for me, even though I'm agnostic and no big fan of Catholicism.

Oh, I had no problem whatsoever with the idea of a priest discovering that he's falling for a woman, especially when their relationship started innocently enough. He's human, it can happen. It has happened, time and time again. Not to mention that Clancy's doubts about his vocation didn't exactly start when he met Sarah. He's been struggling with some of the Church's attitudes for a while, and has already begun to has some glimmers of doubt about whether this is where he should stay in the long term. I suspect, given who he is and what he cares about, that even without Sarah entering his life, he wouldn't have been long for the clerical life.

What I had trouble with was what I saw as too much hemming and hawing on Clancy's part about what he was going to do after he and Sarah got involved. At one point he actually half considers staying as a priest, while keeping Sarah as his lover. That, I didn't like at all. If you can't fulfill the promises you made when you entered the priesthood, then you leave. You might think that the rules are stupid (and as a former Catholic, I think many of the rules are extremely stupid!), but if you don't want to follow them, then you need to go. Even if you still believe the Catholic church is the place for you, you don't stay as a priest. I didn't know I had such strong opinions about it, but I clearly do.

Anyway, Clancy does make what I thought was the right decision in the end, but his waffling left a bad taste in my mouth.

The other thing that didn't completely satisfy was the suspense. It started out well enough. It's not a spoiler to reveal that Kit is taken by a guy who's planning to prostitute her. The character of the girl herself is well developed, a stubborn teenager who thinks she knows everything and can take care of herself, even though to the reader, she's tremendously naive and gullible. So that was good.

What wasn't so good was the fact that her "captor"'s actions were, I thought, completely preposterous. The guy spends weeks grooming her, a lot of effort making her falling love with him and sleeping with her and being very generous and nice in bed. Why? When after a while he'll just try to force (force, mind you, not convince) her to have sex with a john, which is obviously going to make her a bit upset with him? What was the point of the seduction? I just couldn't buy that a pimp would put so much time and effort into a girl (who was pretty enough, but hardly multi-million dollar material), and then just blow it. That character of the pimp felt very, very fake, and I couldn't take this subplot seriously.

There were some good moments, and the characters were interesting and their issues unusual and original, but I had too many problems with the book, especially in the second half, to really like it.

MY GRADE: I can't give it a better grade than C-.


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