This is one of the many articles/reviews that I have reblogged from Caffeine Crew, the collaborative geek blog I write for. I am in the process of truly posting these here on my personal blog. While they will be edited for any prior missed errors, I will not be really updating them beyond that so some information could potentially be outdated, erroneous, or defunct.
Jonathan Ryan’s 3 Gates of the Dead came recommended to me by an old high school friend whose opinion I value highly, and I was not disappointed. I am not usually one for mysteries or thrillers, though I have dabbled in them before (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo of The Millennium Series for one); my usual staple is of the fantasy and fairy tale ilk, but I’m more than happy to step out of my boundaries for a good, rousing tale, and Ryan blows this out of the water. I finished it in two days.
This novel introduces Aidan Schaeffer, an assistant pastor for the Knox church in Columbus, OH. The story opens with Aidan dealing with the aftermath of his ex-fiancee Amanda’s desertion and his subsequent crisis of faith, which was exacerbated by that event along with his parents’ death in a house fire. It becomes very clear that these tragedies were not the cause of his doubts, but merely a catalyst to bring them to the forefront.
I was immediately drawn to Aidan because of this as I have had similar issues, and the questions he was bringing up to his friend Brian were the same ones I’ve brought up to my husband (who is oddly enough also named Brian). Aidan is in a far more delicate position than the average Doubting Thomas since his business is to believe and to be a source of unshakeable faith for the congregation. Despite knowing what will happen he brings his issues to Mike, the head pastor and his boss, fulling expecting to be fired on the spot, but Mike who has also been his mentor for many years, takes this news in stride and tells Aidan that he’ll help him on his journey to regain his faith. Aidan pursued a biology degree in college so he’s very level headed and turned to theology because he saw it as a rational step. The doubts had always been there fueled by indulging in Dawkins and Hitchens, but he’d always been able to keep them at bay until the double whammy of his fiancee and parents.
As most mysteries go, things are never going to remain so “simple” as a crisis of faith and Aidan soon discovers that Amanda has been murdered in a highly ritualistic and frankly eerie way. He is initially a suspect, but his innocence is soon proven, but this heartbreaking wrench just throws him deeper into territory he is not prepared for. Both he and the detective who suspected him, Jennifer Brown, are baffled by Amanda’s murder as there were strange markings found on her body. Adding to this is the strange supernatural events that have been occurring: the footprints found in the snow with no forensic evidence to indicate who made them, the findings by a “ghost hunting” group that Aidan is led to, and the cryptic note left by Amanda charging to him to find “Father Neal” and what horrors will happen if he does not, Aidan Schaeffer is literally a man chased by the dead and haunted by the ghosts of his guilt.
This book gave me goosebumps. I had to stop reading at around the half way point the night before and do something else before going to sleep. Aidan is such a well written and relatable character. All of the doubts and contradictions he brought up about the nature of God were things that I myself have pondered still without satisfactory answer. I liked how Ryan was not trying to force religion down our throats, which is an amazing feat in a story about a preacher who has been thrust into a world of supernatural phenomenon. Usually crisis of faith stories end with the character having an amazing revelation and finding God again. It’s trite; it’s boring; it’s expected. This story did none of those. Aidan’s journey back to his faith is still in question by the end, but he has made progress.
While there were a few things I did figure out on my own, they didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story, and far more revelations were utterly shocking. There were a few things Aidan references that I believe I might have had a better grasp on if I were more familiar with contemporary Christian culture, but these were few and far between. Ryan did an excellent job explaining most things that weren’t common knowledge, but in a way that wasn’t presumptuous and that didn’t take me out of the story. Once I started reading I was in. He wove in the love aspect of the novel very well. It was an expected angle, too, but came off in a perfectly natural way.
For a pastor Aidan is is very witty and snarky, which I chalk up to his fiery Irish blood. I also loved the nerd culture references. In a way that contributed to the creepiness of the tale, because these were so seamless that when the kooky stuff started happening it really got to you because you start thinking, “Oh my God…this is happening in the real world with real people who know about Star Wars and Harry Potter. Ahhh *chils*”
Aidan’s struggle does a lot to present pastors in a different light and this is not a bad thing. It makes one feel less awful for doubting if people who are in the upper echelons do so it makes it okay for the rest of us. Most of all, it shows that they’re human with human failings and human questions. It makes me think that faith is not necessarily unshakeable even for those who seem constantly unshaken. It’s more mutable and wavering like the tide, but above all of it really was the message of hope. The people that really mattered never gave up on Aidan, and I think that says a lot about what true Christianity should be about.
I give this book four and a half stars and I can’t wait for the next installment The Dark Bride.