Prison chaplain John Jordan

I’m an addict. I’m addicted to that instant gratification that comes with being able to order the next book in a series I’m reading and get it minutes later. My kindle has revolutionised how I understand the word ‘series’. Instead of resting after one book and perhaps picking up whatever is lying on the shelf unread, I can now move straight to the next book in the series ensuring a steady diet of the characters and storylines for as long as it lasts.

I can’t remember how I stumbled across Michael Lister and his John Jordan series. I read No. 11 – Blood Oath – first and was so taken with the man and his life that I went straight back to Book 1 – Power in the Blood – and started over. And Lister had me up till Book 11. The one that had started out as a favourite. Then Jordan moved town and now I’m not so sure. Maybe it just takes time to adjust to the new situation. Book 12 – Blood Work – would have been great, had I not read books 1-10. And it is great. Lister at his best. It’s me…. I miss the prison.

John Jordan is a prison chaplain at a Florida state penitentiary. His dad is the local sheriff. His mum an alcoholic. His brother Jake is a cop, and his sister Nancy got out when the getting out was good. His best friend Merrill is as black as Jordan is white and is a prison officer at the same place. His high-school sweetheart Anna works there, too, but she’s married to someone else. His is a complicated lot, drawn as he is to his calling and to his innate investigative skills. He weaves the two professions into a tapestry that is both empathetic and pragmatic.

We are our stories. We are who we believe we are. .[…] And the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of ourselves and the world are all-powerful.

But, you might say, there are hundreds of clerical detectives out there (360 at one count). What has Lister done to make Jordan stand out from the discretion of priests, the converting of preachers, or the prudence of vicaries that enjoy a but of detecting on the side? [Bring back 15th-century collective nouns, I say!] For me, its the insight we get into prison life, into the inmates’ psyche that is fascinating. The poverty of rural America, coupled with inherent racism and small-town politics is equally so. Lister writes well. His characters have personalities that develop and age. His plots, though fictional, seem all too real. Author Michael Connolly, the man behind another favourite investigator of mine, Hieronymus Bosch, is a fan. So much so that Lister has Jordan’s dad working with Harry Bosch on a case and even has Jordan calling the great detective a few times for advice. Weirdly, this made it all the more real, as if one friend of mine knew another from a completely different part of my life. Yes, there are those who question my grip on reality. Indeed, I’m the first to hold up my hand and say that the sky in my world is a peculiar shade of orange.

When I get into the grasp of a good series, I’m lost. Every spare minute is spent finding out what happens next. And with my Kindle, I can bookmark those lines that resonate most, that deserve second, third, and even fourth readings.

Man had come to the forest and money had come to town, and nothing would ever be the same for the land or the people of what once was the forgotten coast.

I wasn’t overly impressed with Florida when I was there, but given that John D MacDonald placed Travis McGee [another all-time favourite detecting philosopher] in Florida, too, perhaps I need to reconsider.

Lister is generous with this signposting to other authors using John Jordan as a channel, like this quotation from author Tahereh Mafi (note to self made to explore more):

The moon is a loyal companion. It never leaves. It’s always there, watching, steadfast, knowing us in our light and dark moments, changing forever just as we do. Every day it’s a different version of itself. Sometimes weak and wan, sometimes strong and full of light. The moon understands what it means to be human. Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections.

I like John Jordan. I like how he thinks, how he expresses himself. I like what he has to say. I like that he’s far from perfect and that he never pretends a piousness that would make him less than credible.

To me, faith and devotion is far richer when mixed with a good dose of honest agnosticism.

Lister has this to say about Jordan:

Running through all of the stories is the mystery of divine grace and the way it can penetrate even the darkest places. The stories are religious in the best sense of the term—open to possibilities. Jordan is a chaplain with more questions than answers, yet he recognizes that grace—the sign of God’s presence in the world—is capable of manifesting itself through the most unlikely people and in the most surprising situations.

If you’re in the market for a new series, this is one I can recommend.






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