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The Breath of Night
on 15 July 2013
Michael Arditti's latest novel focuses on Julian Tremayne, a Roman Catholic priest in the 1970s, and Philip Seward, an art historian, in the present day. In the 1970s, Julian travels to the Philippines and begins his work as a missionary priest in a remote village during the Marcos dictatorship. Initially opposed to taking a political stance, Julian finds himself becoming involved with Communist rebels and he is subsequently imprisoned for his supposed part in the murder of a military commander. More than thirty years later, after Julian's reported death in mysterious circumstances, and amid rumours of him having performed miraculous feats of healing and levitation, there are calls for Julian to be made into a saint. Enter Philip Seward who, through his relationship with Julian's niece, is commissioned by the Tremayne family to investigate the claims and to report on the findings. Initially reluctant, Philip, who tells us he is from a long line of middle-of-the-road Anglicans, allows himself to be persuaded into helping the Tremaynes and, before he knows it, he is in the Philippines and involved in a web of corruption, depravity and violence, and in the company of prostitutes, gangsters and, surprisingly, even Imelda Marcos.
Described on the book's cover as an outstanding and gripping psychological thriller and a challenging moral mystery, I started this novel with quite high hopes and with the thoughts that this would be one of those books you find difficult to put down once you have started. Well although this novel does have its interesting aspects and it is certainly an eye-opener on the corruption and vice that occurs in certain areas in the Far East, I wouldn't really describe it as a psychological thriller. Yes, there were some parts that I certainly found attention-grabbing in that they were rather difficult to read about (child prostitution, the devastating poverty, the violence and corruption and so forth) but this novel did not, unfortunately, capture my attention in the way that I had hoped and I am sorry to say that I could not form any real connection with the main characters, making this ultimately a less than satisfying read. That said, Michael Arditti's written English is impeccable; as an author, he tackles subjects that other writers might well avoid, and certain parts of this story were informative and thought-provoking.