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2.7 out of 5 stars
Prayer
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 15, 2014
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Like many others who have reviewed Prayer, I am a huge fan of Kerr's Bernie Guenther series. This book is quite different, so be forewarned if you are looking for something similar. In Prayer, Kerr brings us a contemporary story of Gil Martins, a Houston based FBI agent who's assigned to domestic terrorism. His marriage is falling apart, partly because he's lost his faith, and his wife, a devout Christian, doesn't want to be married to an atheist. But Gil's faith is challenged at an even deeper level when he becomes involved in two cases--one in which seemingly admirable do-gooders are being murdered by a serial killer, and another in which those who are atheists or who have spoken out against organized religion die under mysterious circumstances. Are these cases linked? Gil becomes obsessed with finding out. Without giving too much away, there is a definite paranormal element to this novel that may not appeal to fans of more conventional thrillers or detective fiction. I found the book a real page-turner and was intrigued by the religious aspect of the story, which delves into the nature of God--does he exist, and if so, is he the God of vengeance and destruction that we see in the Old Testament of the kinder, gentler God we associate with the New Testament? Definitely a thought provoking novel.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 6, 2014
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
At the outset, I want to make clear that I enjoy tremendously Mr. Kerr's Bernie Gunther series, and always look forward to the next installment. I selected this book because I was hoping that the plot would live up to my expectations but, unfortunately, it did not.

The beginning of the book was a bit slow, but I determined to read on in the hope that it would improve. It certainly did, for soon the plot began to move forward quickly, and a sense of dread insinuated itself in the mind and heart of the protagonist. I then felt that I was reading the old Philip Kerr.

The problem was, as the book began to wind down to its conclusion, I became more and more disillusioned with the story line, and by the time the book ended I realized that I really didn't like it much at all. The writing was crisp, and the characters stayed true to themselves, but the plot just "turned me off", even though a lot of it was quite exciting. I don't want to spoil the book for future readers, because there may be many who will enjoy this book from beginning to end. I didn't, but perhaps you will. Bring back Bernie Gunther!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Prayer is a well thought out thriller. Most books that have a supernatural element, although sometimes entertaining almost never have a satisfying explanation for the supernatural events. With this book, if you are religious then the explanation is perfect. The catch-22 of that though is that if you are religious, you might be offended by the contents of this book. I am a religious person, but I am also able to recognize that this is a work of fiction. Also, the questions about God that are brought up in this book are questions that anyone who has read the Bible would ask themselves if they are being truly honest. I know I did. Especially when reading the old testament. Philip Kerr does what he does best. He gives us a story that is very entertaining and also makes us think. Well done!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Philip Kerr defies easy categorization. Actually, he defies any categorization whatsoever, aside from the one reserved for the demonstration of sturdy, reliable storytelling shot through with flashes of surprise and artistic brilliance in book after book. He achieved the commercial success that had been deserved for so long with his historical mystery series featuring Bernie Gunther. One can only hope that those who discovered Kerr through the exploits of his police officer treading a moral tightrope in Nazi-era Germany will have searched out his other books, which range from explorations of futuristic, dystopian societies to a highly prized young adult series. We can now add to that list PRAYER, a self-contained thriller that is as complex, questioning and ultimately satisfying as anything he has written to date.

The protagonist is a troubled everyman named Gil Martins, a once devout Catholic whose erosive doubt leaves him literally and figuratively hanging by his torn cuticles on the edge of evangelical Protestantism. He is married, interestingly enough, to a devout Christian woman, who is both his strength and an implicit disturbance for him, a reminder of who he once was. Martins is also (more significantly, for our purposes) a member of the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Unit. Scottish by birth, and now a United States citizen living in Houston, Texas, Martins learns that he has accidentally helped send an innocent man to death row. His prayers are a far cry removed from what he may have learned in the Baltimore Catechism, but are a cry for divine help nonetheless --- and all the more tragic because it is problematic as to whether or not he expects an answer.

In spite of his doubt (or maybe partly because of it), Martins, at the request of a friend in the clergy, is drawn into the investigation of a man who falls into a coma and dies for no apparent reason. He soon discovers that there have been similar occurrences, targeting both prominent members of the religious community and icons of the humanist movement. Unfortunately, his dubious superiors almost immediately discount his conclusions, leaving him adrift. His biggest problem is that there is no real evidence of any malevolent action toward or against the individuals; while their deaths are sudden and of unknown cause, there is nothing to indicate that an outside force is responsible.

When Martins discovers a list of intended victims, he becomes allied, professionally and personally, with one of them. They learn that they may be up against a new form of spiritual warfare, if you will; to wit, one in which prayer, which historically has been an act of gratitude or, more frequently, a request for intercession, appears to have been turned to a diabolical end. Martins finds that his faith --- and everything he thinks he knows and might believe --- is put to the ultimate test, as he pursues a deranged mastermind who may have found a way to turn the divine to his will.

I don’t recall ever having read a novel quite like PRAYER. It is by turns frightening, disturbing, intriguing and maddening, open to interpretation while pitching between faith and doubt. There is literally something for everyone here, regardless of the degree of your belief (or lack thereof) in the divine, and plenty of fodder for disagreement on both sides. There is also, and perhaps most prominently, a fine mystery at the core of the plot that will keep you up at night, reading and thinking. This is a wonderfully told literally thriller that should stir discussion and controversy among those who read it, as well as a worthy addition to Kerr’s masterful and unacknowledged canon.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I was so disappointed in this book I went back and re-read Marilyn Stasio's review in NYT. She never did say it was a good book and indeed it is not. It falls somewhere between sci-fi and the dark night of the soul. Too much half-baked theology to be a good mystery. The only thing reasonably good is the description of Houston. Kerr has lost his way with this one!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: Kindle Edition
Mr. Kerr’s latest is a creepy and baffling standalone, a kind of mishmash of horror and mystery. Reading this fright-filled meditation on faith was similar to watching a supernatural scare show. The central theme is religion and faith. It is of no surprise some reviewers highly praised this thriller and others simply found the premise to be unbelievable, rather uncomfortable and genuinely disturbing.

The backdrop is the metropolis of Houston and in the town Galveston shortly after Hurricane Ike. To make things spooky Galveston is a ghost town and the action take place in a mansion owned by a priest (Amityville). The melodrama begins beautifully with an exciting police procedural and gradually morphs into a modern Gothic horror show with boogie, devils and all the works. The sharp turn towards the supernatural takes place towards the end of the novel and gives us a genuinely scary atmosphere. We have excellent scenes where the Angels of Death shows up and some scary chases. In whole, I found the plot to be slow moving and offered a medley of events that seemed to go nowhere. This is one of those novels with big ideas about religion and showcases it evil. This is quite a moody and though provoking addition to Mr. Kerr’s library. The narrator is the main character, FBI agent Gil Martins, an atheist who struggles not only with his faith but also with his marriage. The characterization and dialogue are standard versions, nothing spectacular.

In a nut shell:

When Gil’s friend, the worldly Bishop Eamon Coogan, asks him to look into the curious deaths of some prominent atheists, Gil suspects that they are being murdered by members of a fundamentalist mega-church and he is soon drawn into a mystery that defies both faith and logic….

My last words:

I was captivated by this psychological thriller for most of the book but dreadfully disappointed in the denouement.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Few of Philip Kerr's books have gotten such negative evaluations. I think it must be because he has a philosophical-theological theme here, unlike in his other novels. The God that the main character Giles Martins first rejects and then accepts is a Manichaean God, one who is the source of both Good and Evil. In Christianity Satan does evil but God permits it. This hardly takes God off the hook but in Manichaeism God has no excuses. The evil, suffering, tragedy of the world and of men and women whom He created is entirely his doing. Here the problem of evil is solved in a very simple way, but at the price of a God who is not loveable in the least. It is the God of the Five Books of Moses, not the God of the prophets, the psalms, or the New Testament. This creator God chastises as often as he loves, indeed more often. This is not the God of the Christian churches. I have no idea whether Kerr is just playing with ideas or really believes that this is the only God we have evidence about. I suspect that he does believe that and that his novelistic confrontation with evil, particularly in his study of the Nazis, has led him to this. A not unreasonable way of looking at things at all. But certainly not a comfort. This God you can only fear and dread is not the God you want.

People have babbled endlessly about what God can be after Auschwitz. Kerr has an answer.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 30, 2014
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Philip Kerr has had a good run with his Bernie Gunther crime series, centering on the back and forth repartee of his Philip Marlowe type, German wise guy, going up against the Nazi top brass. In this new book, he radically departs from the mean in a satirical debunking of our American religious experience.

While well written (as most of his Gunther series most assuredly was), the moving force in this book is a large portion of American society, our evangelical Christian community. So while this book excites in parts, the subject matter may not play to his former mystery readership.

Quite frankly, it is a thriller, but the Gunther series with its historical backdrop and atmospherics is far more readable and entertaining.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Dreadfully disappointing. I have loved every one of PK's Bernie Gunther novels and was well-disposed to the new character and setting, but this book literally loses the plot. It's hard to say how without giving away what happens (or doesn't), but basically none of the events that occur are resolved: and if we are supposed to believe the explanation for some, it is hard to see how it could apply to others... I really wish I hadn't wasted my time on it.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 22, 2014
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
FBI agent Gil Martins has a lot on his plate - a serial killer who preys on conspicuously good people; an impending terror attack on a Houston synagogue by a Christian extremist group; and the peculiar deaths of prominent atheists, which he comes to believe are linked.

Meanwhile, his own marriage is breaking up, not from a past extramarital affair, but through his own loss of Christian faith. His very religious wife can't live with it. As Martins digs he finds a prominent Houston pastor has some very dark doings secretly going on at his megachurch. Driven to the end of his own rope, Martins comes face to face with some terrifying realities.

This is a difficult book. Kerr assaults religion, particularly but not only American-as-apple-pie evangelism. He finds much bad and little good to say about any of them. Megachurches are million-dollar hustles filled with fools driven to joy through ecstatic worship. The Catholic Church is full of pedophiles and the justice-obstructers who let them go unpunished. The Satmar Chasidim are intolerant of lesbians. (Really?) And so on. Martins, through whose eyes we see all these, has become an atheist, and his wife finding his secret stash of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens books doesn't help his marriage.

When the book takes an interesting turn - when some events can only be explained by the supernatural - Kerr takes it in another negative direction. The God suggested later in the book is not a God of love, but a scary God, one who rules through fear.

(It's the familiar Christian division between the Old Testament God, whom Christians see as one of fear, and New Testament God, seen as a god of love, a categorization Jews take issue with. To be fair Kerr in an afterword sources as much support for a God of fear in the Christian Bible as he does in the Jewish one, but he doesn't seem troubled by why Jews would bother keeping their faith for 3000 years in a God with no upside.)

Meanwhile, we don't see much of millions of people who find meaning, focus, guidance and happiness through the wide spectrum of religions America has to offer.

The book has some problems. Martins' character never really hangs together for me. One problem is his language, and that problem is actually Kerr's, a Brit here writing Americans. Kerr gives his character a back story - born in Scotland, coming to the U.S. at 14 - but I think this is just to alibi any Britishisms that creep into Martins' mouth. An FBI agent would never say "quite right," or that he's "keen" on things. Since Scotland figures little in the story, writing Martins as an American and giving the book a once-over by a good American editor might have been a better idea. I don't get Martins' wife, either; her two sides, a successful prosecutor now a glazed eyeball Texas megachurch member lacking only a beehive hairdo, never hang together for me either.

Other problems: There's a stereotyping of Texans as gunslinging yahoos. Martins uses a lot of profanity that seems forced, at odds with much of his character, and clunky in the mouths of other characters Kerr puts it in.

And there's a paranoid sense that "Christianists" - I'd never heard the term either - are as big a threat as Islamists. Really? The Western world has faced a crescendo of Islamic violence from the 1970s, one ebbing only to the extent that its leaders have been killed or turned their efforts on each other. Homegrown terror attacks with fundamentalist ties, such as abortion clinic attacks, have been few since the early 1990s. Kerr and others fulminating about "Christianists" seem to be hyping a non-existent threat here and meanwhile smearing millions of people by association. What's their motivation?

The book has some interesting twists and turns. Megapastor Nelson Van Der Velden speaks Hebrew, has a degree in comparative religions, and through ties to Israeli rabbis has made inroads into Kabbalistic secrets. Kerr there gets into some mysticism as spooky and scary as anything Dan Brown ever conjured. Martins goes through a haunted-house experience that do a horror novel justice, and Kerr does the cop-novel part of things pretty well.

Kerr is too good a writer to dismiss, which is why I'm giving this three stars instead of one. But I have to admit I like him better in the Bernie Gunther series (totally worth your time, all nine books) and "Hitler's Peace". His writing has a significant dark side, this novel is no exception, and its conclusion will make uneasy believers and doubters alike. But I can't help feeling that its primary purpose is a post-religious Old World attempt to trash the religious faith that sets the New World apart.
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