This was an ARC from NetGalley.
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The Priest is the ninth novel in Reisz’s The Original Sinners series (which also includes several novellas and short stories). But it is, according to the official description, an entirely new arc in the series, and “the perfect jumping-on point for new readers.” I certainly found this to be true: I haven’t read the previous books (and was completely unfamiliar with the series in general), but I had no problems getting into the story. The novel provides bits and pieces of background for returning characters, and it helps that much of that new information is seen through the eyes of someone who is also new to the world: Cyrus Tremont, a private investigator with his own baggage.
The story follows an investigation into the suicide of a beloved Catholic priest in New Orleans. There’s no question of it being a murder, but there is an intriguing factor in Father Ike’s death: the fact that he tried to call a dominatrix right before he shot himself. The police have decided not to investigate, but Cyrus (a former police officer himself) is asked as a favor to look into the unusual circumstances. His first step is to find said Domme (Mistress Nora, who is a central character throughout the series), and the plot takes off from there.
Since this is a combination mystery/erotica novel, the investigation itself isn’t as intricate as we would find in a straight-up thriller. Nevertheless, it has some interesting twists and turns. The goal is not to find out who did it, but why Father Ike had certain items in his possession, and why he had tried to reach Nora. It’s the aftermath of the investigation that’s important, and will have consequences for all the characters involved.
More interesting than the mystery, for me at least, are the themes woven into the plot. Nora (and this is not a spoiler, since it’s central to the entire series) has been in an open relationship (both D/s and romantic) with the Jesuit priest Søren for over two decades. Søren himself is currently on a year-long suspension for having fathered a child with a married woman, and wondering whether he will choose to go back to the Church after his hiatus. This, along with Father Ike’s death, forms part of a discussion on what is asked of Catholic clergy, and whether those demands need to change. It’s also part of a broader conversation on spirituality, in part sparked by Nora’s encounters with a witch named Mercedes (who I hope returns in the next books, since she was fantastic).
Another great conversation throughout the novel centers on kink and sexuality. I’m guessing that, because Nora is a central character for the whole series, this is also a recurring theme. In any case, I like the respect the topic receives, and the way we take it all in through Cyrus’ growing friendship with Nora. He starts off with a set of prejudices and preconceived notions about the kink community, which are gradually dismantled as he gets to know Nora and her world. Eventually, it makes Cyrus look at his own relationship with his fiancée Paulina in a new light.
This conversation on D/s relationships is also not limited to male/female pairings, since Nora and Søren have had both male and female subs.
Finally, race is an underlying but important theme in The Priest. Cyrus is black, and has left the police force following an incident where he was shot, while chasing a suspect, by a fellow (white) cop with a prior record of racial profiling.
During their investigation, Nora becomes painfully aware of the reactions to Cyrus as he knocks on strangers’ doors to ask questions about the case. Cyrus always makes sure to wear his best suits, and look as non-threatening as possible, and still he’s viewed with suspicion or outright hostility. Cyrus and Nora’s friendship grows, in part, from understanding each other’s place in a terrible society, and having each other’s back.
All these themes are woven elegantly into an intriguing plot with great characters. The exchanges between Cyrus and Nora are often hilarious, and their friendship doesn’t feel rushed or forced. Nora and Søren have their own issues to tackle, and the ending leaves us with the sense that this will be a long, difficult road. Until now, Søren has had no qualms about combining his 23-year relationship with Nora and his duties as a priest and professor. However, the fallout of the investigation into Father Ike’s death makes him realize that he might eventually have to make a final choice.
I probably won’t go back to read the previous books in the series, because The Priest did feel like the start of something. But I’ll definitely keep an eye out for book 10 in this series.