Passion Play by Sean Stewart
Recommended for some readers
Published by Dover Publications
Publication Date : June 21st, 2017 (reprint)
Available as eBook & paperback – 192 Pages
Source : NetGalley (Thank you!)
Passion Play’s title alone could give you a clue to the insides of the book. The term ‘passion play’ is often assigned to plays or screen productions of ‘The Passion of Jesus Christ’. Anyone who has been to church around Easter or Christmas (especially in the states) has seen at least one of these. Keeping that in mind reading Passion Play, makes for an interesting experience. The story follows a woman, Diane Fletcher, who works in a sort of freelance/consultant position for the police. She’s a ‘hunter’ someone who can track down people for marks due to a special skill that allows her to feel the emotions and patterns of people around her. The government that she lives under is what gives this novel it’s unique spin. It’s a highly conservative Christian system called the Redemption Presidency. From the government to the television and movie and the computer system – the whole society follows those tenants. It’s very much about moral and moral choices and it’s something Sean Stewart has said in the past about this book.
The book opens with Diane being called in to look into a murder of a woman by stoning. A vigilante group has taken to stoning those they find in breach of the law for adultery or the like. This small case gives us a look at what Diane does, and gives us background development before leading to the main mystery of the book – who killed Jonathon Mask, a famous actor and supporter of the government.
Passion Play is, I believe, the debut of an author I’ve seen on shelves often but never picked up. This ‘new release’ this year is a reprint as the book was originally published in 1992. That I think it is important going in as this could be relevant to current political climates (maybe the reason for the reprint?). With that noted I’ll say it’s impressive for a debut. The structure of the story is clever, the world built is convincing and a little frightening for someone like me, who grew up tossed from church to church in the Southern US. I also really enjoyed our protagonist who at times annoyed me and other times I really felt for.
Diane is stubborn, driven, and struggles under this ability she has. The idea of an empath has been explored before in things I’ve read and this definitely looks at what might be the darker side of that gift. A type of burnout is often associated with it, especially after the thrills these people go for to begin to feel more and more intense emotion. It starts to seem more and more like a drug. I can get that, after feeling the same things from people over and over it’s possible that could happen. I liked that a presentation of the empathy in that drug-like manner. Those high emotion moments being felt by the empath and the other individual could definitely give a buzz. I think I would class her as unlikable just due to how dark and melancholy she was but for the setting and story it worked. There were flaws, I wanted more of her history and she did a few things towards the end of the novel that I don’t know were consistent. I can also say that about the side characters who, in addition, were a little two-sided. They almost had the dimension I wanted, enough that for a detective novel I could let it slide, but consistency wasn’t completely there for me.
There were a few other things, odd inserted moments that I think were meant to draw out and illustrate the world that instead fell a bit flat and felt like loose ends. Had the book actually been meatier and followed those threads or perhaps lead to a sequel it would have been much better. That leads me to the ultimate problem for me with the novel. The ending just didn’t feel like it fit – I see what the title is chosen having finished the novel, so I think I see what Sean Stewart was shooting for here. However I don’t think the character, as I read her, would have made that choice so I totally disagree with that ending. Other people may have enjoyed that more – but for me looking at what led up to that and trying to take in the context, I’m not convinced.
This is a book that will definitely appeal to a certain type of reader, if sounds interesting I think it’s worth picking up. I just wish there was more, and something there at the end besides what happened. The ideas were incredibly clever, but that’s up to you. Is it worth seeing how that plays out?
Cover notes : I wasn’t able to locate the artist for this new edition with a Google search, however I really do like the design. It captures the gritty setting, and really pushes the feeling of the world with looming cross. Wonderful work to whoever this designer is!