The Reaper by Peter Lovesey
What the Back of the Book Has to Say:
A dark delicious tale of a handsome and popular village cleric who has no conscience.
Why I Picked It Up:
I'd seen it at the library a few times. It was purse-sized and didn't look too long. No intense interest but it could be good.
What I Think:
I had absolutely no idea what to expect going into this novel. The back of the book is a single sentence, for crying out loud. I thought it was maybe going to take place in the Middle Ages and maybe there would be some murder or something. I didn't know but I figured it couldn't be horrible.
I came out of it completely, head-over-heels in love with this book.
Now, right from the get go, you know that our "hero", the vicar Otis Joy, is a horrible man. This is established from pretty much the first sentence of the novel. He's young and charming and the congregation loves him but he's also a thief and a murderer (and that's only in the first chapter). However, despite knowing all that before you even get to know the character, somehow you are still rooting for him the entire book which is quite an accomplishment for an author.
Lovesey has created this small, modern-day village in rural England, full of gossip and bake sales and a society centered around their little Sunday services. It's all very real, all the people seeming to jump off the page to talk to you about Elaine's son or that awful Colin. Added to the mix, though, is murder and mayhem and underhandedness. Joy's plans seem to keep going awry and he has to go farther and farther into the pit he's dug for himself.
I keep seeing this book categorized as a mystery and I don't know if I quite agree with that. I know that Lovesey is a mystery writer and thus, I understand the temptation but I think I would call this book a thriller. A mystery implies that there are circumstances that one doesn't know the truth behind and that's never quite true in this novel. You always know who exactly it is that is behind each crime (even if it may take about ten pages to reveal itself). There is some mystery solving going on, by two of the most obnoxious characters in the book, determined to pin every crime in the village on the beloved vicar (and quite right they are to do it). But they are repugnant people and no one in the village listens to them.
There's thrills and questions and twists and turns. There is a character introduced fairly early on, Rachel, who you are never quite sure what to think of. She's definitely one of the best characters in the novel. Finding out what role she plays in all this, finding out about Otis Joy's devious past, watching horrific crime after horrific crime getting committed and all along, hoping that Joy's deeds are not going to catch up with him are all part of the ride.
This book is thrilling, darkly hilarious and always entertaining. I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you read one book I review on this entire website, it should be this one.