"Better new friend than an old foe."

- Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene
So Small a Carnival, by John William Corrington

St. Louis Cathedral is in a class by itself. Take away the ornate altar, and it could be a Protestant church built during the baroque. Despite all its popish flummery, plaster statues, and overreaching painted motifs, it is austere, chaste, a masterpiece of design and grace. If I were God, I’d stay there a lot.

Occasionally, when trolling among the books offered free for a day for Kindle, I run across a gem. So Small a Carnival, by John William Corrington, is one of those. Aside from being a mystery, it’s a New Orleans novel, almost a genre in itself. Author Corrington can take his place alongside Walker Percy, if not on equal terms, at least without embarrassment. This is a fascinating story with a tremendous sense of place. And possibly—I’m not sure—a subtextual Christian message. Or something.

Wes Colvin is a reporter for a New Orleans newspaper. He receives a mysterious phone call from a stranger who wants to meet him in a local restaurant and tell him a story. Instead, when Wes arrives with his friend Jésus (which Wes insists on pronouncing “Jesus”), he finds the place shot to pieces just a moment before, all customers and employees dead.

Including someone who meant a lot to Wes.

Composing a story about the massacre, Wes comes into contact with the powerful Lemoyne family and the beautiful Denise Lemoyne, granddaughter of one of the victims, with whom he falls suddenly and sharply in love. Poking into the swamp waters of Louisiana politics with the help of his cop friend, “Rat” Trapp, he begins to discover some very old and dangerous secrets.

I liked many things about So Small a Carnival. One is that it was a smart book. There are certain dumb things that mystery heroes tend to do, like walking into dangerous situations alone, that Wes is smart enough to avoid. Corrington manages to keep the tension up without resorting to such cheap tropes. The heart of the book is the question of whether history is “real” or not. I tend to disagree with what the characters conclude (and I found the final resolution difficult to wrap my mind around), but it may possibly be grace and forgiveness that are really in view here.

Highly recommended. Cautions for language, violence, and adult themes.


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