Mortal Grace

Edward Stewart, Author Delacorte Press $21.95 (490p) ISBN 978-0-385-31132-8
Midway through Stewart's compelling novel about the squalid side of religion, a wearied Episcopal cardinal asks, ``What happened to the days when priests were content to sit in the rectory and drink themselves silly?'' Well he might wonder, as the dismembered bodies of street kids are turning up around New York City, buried in hampers with traces of communion wafers lodged in their mouths. An elderly, beloved priest from a moneyed parish seems a prime suspect, much to the dismay of his (also suspect) associate--a female priest of the same parish. Enter Stewart's handsomely tousled police detective Cardozo and his savvy sidekick Ellie Siegel, who turn over assorted rocks to uncover a gaggle of fascinating characters both sad and seamy, finding that even coverups have coverups and that churchgoing is hardly what it used to be. Stewart, who probed the underbelly of N.Y.C. society in Privileged Lives and Deadly Rich (earlier victories for the Cardozo/Siegel team), strips away pious clerical veneers and brutally lays bare their sins. His hero remains an engagingly human figure, cracking wise just often enough to amuse but not irritate; the byplay with his teenage daughter continues to charm. Lurid details here might bother the squeamish, but they'd be missing a nifty read if they let that deter them. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/30/1994
Release date: 06/01/1994
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