In his Author’s Epilogue, Robert Henman acknowledges that Behind the Altar, his first piece of fiction, is a response to his years of pastoral work in the Catholic Church. The statement will not surprise anyone who reads his book. The novel is filled with characters, specifically his lead, who over-analyze in elongated sections of dialogue their disillusionment and frustration with corruption inside the Church.
Jimmie and Mel Deveau are a married couple who work as pastoral assistants at different Catholic parishes. When the archbishop of the Halifax Archdiocese places new, difficult priests in charge of their parishes, the couple witness and begin questioning dubious decisions and behavior within their churches. Jimmie comes face-to-face with prejudice toward a gay priest, and Mel discovers that a co-worker is experiencing verbal abuse by her parish’s new priest. All of this leads Jimmie into a mid-life faith crisis. At the same time, he discovers the true story behind his birth parents. Also woven into the story is an awkward plot involving a pedophile priest who gets caught by a fellow priest who is in love with him.
Although the story is nicely paced and includes some interesting, intimate knowledge of happenings “behind the altar,” as the title would indicate, the book is dialogue driven, which is tedious at best. Henman also shifts points-of-view in the middle of scenes and frequently misuses commas. Additionally, he includes a graphic, unnecessary scene between a priest and a boy.
Since Henman states that the story is based on his own experiences, readers may wonder why he didn’t write a memoir–a genre that may fall more within his writing comfort zone.
Also available in ebook.