Rating: 3 stars
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Kate Sherwood is a new author for me, so I was excited to review one of her novels. Mark of Cain is an interesting story that calls for readers to take a fairly large leap and willingly suspend their disbelief right off the bat. While I felt that the basis for the story was realistic in its own right, the pathway it took in bringing the two main characters together often brought me right to the edge of my limit in accepting that this was fiction and I needed to buy into that more often than I felt I should.
Let me back up and begin with a brief synopsis. Lucas is a convicted killer. In a drunken brawl he wields a bottle just so and takes the life of a young man whose brother is an Anglican priest and whose parents are upstanding members of their small community. After only serving three years in prison, Lucas is released and returns to that same small town where he is quickly met by his old drinking buddies, a pack of homophobic twenty somethings who pick fights and bully townspeople. Upon hearing of the release of his brother’s killer, Mark, our openly gay priest, sets out to make the ex-con’s life miserable. From this point forward, we will be privy to Mark’s inner turmoil over being a man of God versus a grieving and vindictive brother.
Over time, as Mark’s life unravels, he finds that all is not what it seems when it comes to Lucas and the two men begin to slowly fall in love with each other. Interspersed throughout this story are gut-wrenching moments when Mark really wrestles with the idea that he could possibly be in love with his own brother’s killer. Lucas, on the other had, is seemingly so naïve about life in general that he is continually conflicted about how he does not deserve happiness when he has killed someone. And so, these two men dance around one another, continually being pulled apart by the church, the town, and even those who profess to be their friends.
Let’s begin with the idea that Mark is an openly gay Anglican priest—not to be confused with a Catholic, Anglicans can marry and date openly (unless you are gay and then you must refrain from being too “out there”). While there was no way for the author to separate the man from his church, I did feel that the religious aspect to this novel was very heavy-handed. I understood that Mark was conflicted—and rightfully so—but I did not feel we needed to be drawn back to his crisis of faith over and over again. I felt after a while that element caused the plot to drag and it became entirely too repetitive. Consequently, I found myself less sympathetic to Mark’s plight and more irritated by his constant waffling over his profession and his love for Lucas.
And what about Lucas? How could a man who spent three years behind bars and amazingly escaped with just an incredible guilt complex but not much else be so incredibly naïve? Again I understood that he did not feel he deserved an even break or a help up, after all he did kill a man. But over and over again Lucas was willing to deny himself basic human needs to make amends. His character came off as almost too limited intellectually. It was difficult for me to understand exactly what drew Mark to Lucas romantically at first because Lucas was so one-dimensional. This character never expected anything or asked for anything, instead he was content to be anyone’s whipping boy because he had accidentally killed a man in a fit of drunken rage that apparently was provoked by the deceased.
And that brings me to the final problem I had. There were so many innuendos that never fully developed or had answers to them. For instance, did Jimmy, Mark’s brother, actually bully Lucas? Often Mark comes to the edge of admitting that Jimmy was no saint and yet we never really find out what happened that night as Lucas cannot recall the incident even marginally. Then there was Sean, Lucas’ childhood friend and constant buddy. Early on there is this allusion to the idea that Sean may be gay. There is this strangely intimate touching scene that takes place shortly after Lucas comes home that left me just scratching my head. After that moment, the idea is never really presented again, and yet the seed is planted early on in the novel.
Mark of Cain by Kate Sherwood was a sprawling novel that could have benefited from some good editing and tightening of the plot. I felt as tough the novel repeated major themes entirely too often and belabored many points that could have been addressed and then dropped in order to develop other plot points along the way. All in all this was a good novel that had great potential but just fell short of its goal.