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1955 ~ Father Theo Riley never wanted to be a priest, nor a killer. The former boxing champion and Korean War veteran gave up more than a career when he went into the Army. He lost the only thing he ever wanted: his love, Andréa Bouvre. Friends thought Theo entered the priesthood to mend his broken heart or atone for the massacred orphans he couldn’t save in Korea. However, the truth is much darker and more damning, tied to a blood debt and family secret that has haunted Theo since he was a boy. He drinks to forget he ever had a life of his own—waits for death, prays for mercy, and hopes for a miracle. He gets all three when a child goes missing, another shows up on his doorstep, and the love of his life drives back into his world; the seaside hamlet of Manzanita Oregon. Theo’s dream reunion with Andréa becomes a nightmare when a serial killer who considers himself a holy man targets the town and everyone Theo loves. Drinking days decidedly behind him, Theo and some old warriors set out to send evil back to hell and a few good souls to heaven in RETURN TO SENDER.
POV of protagonist, Theo Riley;
All night I listened for cars, footsteps, noises that didn’t belong. All night, every sound reminded me of Korea’s Karst Caves: sounds, smells, threats hidden in every echo. I tried to recall in which letter I wrote to Andréa about the noisy bats. Was it October ’52, or later?
The children had been terrified of the Daubenton bats that built colonies inside the caves. At night, the scratching sounds and flapping wings was as threatening to them as the sound of footsteps and the CCF running up on us at night was to me. The nun told them the bats were good luck, there to protect us, that they stayed awake at night to keep watch.
The oldest boy, Hai-bin, was the first to call me “Teo.” He rolled his eyes back in his head when the nun said that. In any other world, he’d have been a budding teenager full of angst and attitude, not an undernourished warrior ready to fight, ready to die, not old enough to understand the meaning of either. Not old enough to understand any of Korea’s madness. But then, who was?
As the days, nights, and weeks had gone on, those brave orphans folded the strange noises from the waking Daubenton bats into that place where they carried the heavy, heavy burden of acceptance—they slept through the night with those mysterious guardians taking flight above them. They slept. It became part of their new existence. An existence brittle and rickety as the bamboo bridges that sooner or later would lead us back to a world ablaze outside those caves.
REVIEW: EXCELLENT DEBUT
Return to Sender is a novel about impulsive choices and the continual impact they have on our lives. Author Mindy Halleck paints a colorful portrait of family tensions in the turn of the century Ireland. A tragic choice sends the Riley family to America to escape the machinations of a vengeful rival. It also sets young Theo onto the path of priesthood that is both unwelcomed and unsuitable. The timeline jumps around a bit, reflecting on what could have been, then hurling itself into the present. The heart of the story is the relationship between an unrepentant convict and the reluctant priest.
It is a story well worth telling. Author Halleck inserts many touchstones familiar to older Irish Catholic families. Her immersion into the subject shows in her detailed descriptions and use of Gaelic-flavored dialect scattered throughout the novel.
The book handles difficult topics such as religion, justice, and redemption. Kudos to Ms. Halleck for taking on such heady subjects. The book has a lyrical quality, almost like a poem with its endless metaphors and the avid love of a descriptive phrase.
Continual time jumps, excessive metaphors, and sentences stretching into infinity confuse the narrative. It often takes rereading a sentence without all the asides to make sense of it. While an interesting read, it could be a better read with some judicious editing.
Mindy Halleck is a Pacific Northwest author, blogger and writing instructor. Her short story, The Sound of Rain, which placed in the Writer's Digest Literary Contest blossomed into her first novel Return to Sender. Halleck blogs at Literary Liaisons and is an active member of the Pacific Northwest writing community. In addition to being a writer, Halleck is a happily married, globe-trotting beachcomber, antiquer, gardener, proud grandma, and three-time cancer survivor.
Mindy’s AMAZON page: http://www.amazon.com/Mindy-Sitton-Halleck/e/B004W4LK90/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1421806103&sr=8-1