John Jordan is a prison chaplain who often finds himself neck-deep in investigating crimes at the same time as he’s trying to help the incarcerated find peace. But, where did it all start? How did a cop turned chaplain get interested in doing what he does? Innocent Blood by Michael Lister is a prequel to the John Jordan mysteries that tells the story of a young John Jordan, whose father was in law enforcement in a small town in the Florida Panhandle. During a trip to Atlanta, young John had an encounter with the man known as the Atlanta Child Murderer. Already captivated, almost to the point of obsession, with the murders of young black boys by an unknown killer, when Jordan later learns that the man he confronted in a video game parlor was, in fact, the killer. But, something about the case bothers John. The man was convicted of killing two adults, and while he was suspected of the other murders, he was never charged. John is not convinced that he killed all the kids people say he did, but he’s also not convinced that he is, as some believe, completely innocent.
After graduating from high school, John decides to enroll in an Atlanta seminary to become a lay spiritualist, while at the same time, using his free time to investigate the killings. He focuses on one child, one who was never thought to be the victim of the Atlanta Child Murderer, but whose case remains unsolved. He becomes involved with the slain boy’s mother and adopted sister, and finds himself drawn into events that threaten to overwhelm him.
The author does an amazing job of filling in Jordan’s background, while at the same time, painting a richly detailed picture of the region and its society and culture at the time. This is mystery as mystery should be. Red herrings, false clues, but just enough hints to make you think you know who the killer is, and then he springs it on you like those compressed snakes from the joke tube that you enjoyed as a kid—provided you’re a kid of the Baby Boom generation. The characters are so deftly drawn you’ll feel that you know them.
I give this one five stars.