Chicago Tribune Books Section
June 21, 2008
Virgins and Martyrs
By E.L. Merkel(Five Star, $25.95)
The third mystery/thriller from Chicagoan Earl Merkel explores a powder keg of divisive
topics—abortion, domestic terrorism, religious fanaticism—but the crux of the novel revolves around the power of faith: faith in God, faith in oneself, faith in the institutions that bind society.
Set in northwestern Florida and featuring hard-nosed female Police Officer Aria Quynn (who makes Dirty Harry look like an anger-management counselor), the story begins with a bang when an abortion clinic is bombed multiple times, killing several people, including Quynn's partner. Days earlier, a local 13-year-old girl supposedly spoke with the Virgin Mary while experiencing stigmata on her palms. The message Mary reportedly relayed through her—to "chastise" baby-murderers "and all who support them"—showed up on a Web site run by the quasi-military Centurions of the Lord the day before the bombing.
When the FBI takes over the case, Quynn disregards orders to let the feds handle the investigation. With the help of her old partner, Tito Schwartz, a disgraced former police officer now working as a private investigator, Quynn begins to unravel the connections among the bombings, members of the fanatical religious group and the 13-year-old.
"Virgins and Martyrs" has all the elements to create a first-rate thriller—a diverse cast of believable and fully developed characters, an intricate story line, consistently fast pacing and plenty of jaw-dropping plot twists...a deftly crafted mystery with central characters so engaging readers will be left hoping for more installments starring Quynn and company.
—Reviewed by Paul Goat Allen