Rev Jonah Newman

(creator: Robert Stephen Reid)

Robert Stephen Reid
Rev Jonah (or Pastor) Newman is the new interim pastor at Mason Street (Baptist) Church in Sheridan in Eastern Washington. The drowned body of the previous pastor had been found only a few weeks before. Jonah's wife had been his co-pastor at a community church in Duarte, but had been killed in a robbery the previous year so he lives now with his 12-year-old son Mark. We are not told anything about his age or appearance, but he soon proves himself to be a friendly, approachable and not easily shockable pastor - which is just as well in the circumstances in which he finds himself.

Professor Robert Stephen Reid was awarded his PhD at the University of Washington. He is the author of numerous books on contemporary preaching and public speaking. He is Director of the Graduate Program in Organizational Communication & Leadership, and Department Head at the University of Dubuque in Iowa. He is also an ordained Baptist Minister who has served as senior pastor as well as interim pastor for several congregations. The First Stone, self-published as an eBook, is his first detective novel and is intended as the first of a series.

The First Stone (2012)
The First Stone starts in May 1999 when Rev. Jonah Newman becomes the interim pastor of Mason Street Church in Eastern Washington where he has to confront the mystery of his predecessor's strange death. Was it an accident, suicide or even murder? When the local newspaper informs readers that the previous pastor had left dictated notes on his counseling sessions, Jonah has to contend with townsfolk who fear that he has listened to these tapes and learnt their guilty secrets. There is also a voyeur still at work who relishes watching naked women and what they get up to, and there's even a vengeful promiscuous woman who threatens to sue the church because it had allowed a petition claiming that she had “fornicated" with the dead pastor to be included in committee minutes. It all sounds a bit much - but perhaps the author knows of at least some of these things really happening!

Jonah had come to Mason Street Church hoping to draw on his own experience in coming to terms with tragedy to help the congregation, but finds that it is a greater challenge than he could ever have anticipated. The book's strength is the author's understanding, based no doubt on his own personal experience, of the minister's role in helping his congregation come to terms with difficult situations, and the consequent strains on himself. So we end up with a meaningful glimpse into his life and responsibilities.

The author knows all about the way churches work, and the in-fighting that goes on in committees. As he points out, “It is the job of an interim pastor to help a congregation to heal and to go forward." And this is especially true when, as here, he is faced with “a divided and angry congregation that seems to be spending all its energy either damning or defending Eric (the dead pastor)".

When Jonah realises that he will have to listen to the tapes on which the pastor was thought to have recorded his counselling sessions, he is resolute enough to face up to "at least twenty people" who are afraid that their confessions may have been recorded. This is realistically handled.

There are some places, however, where a professional editor might have helped: there is, for example, a rather unnecessary prologue in which the drowned minister's body is discovered by two boys out fishing, but this lacks any sense of surprise because we know from the start what it is that they're going to discover. And there are at least five spelling mistakes that might have been picked up by a professional proof-reader. (Following this review, both these matters were corrected.)

The ending gets increasingly melodramatic (when a "bloodied madman" ties a rope around his victim saying, “Sorry, babe, I got to do this", and we're told, it was “clear that (the murderer) was serious"). This is not really too convincing.

In the next book, let's hope that the author makes more use of his own pastoral experience, for Jonah Newman is a potentially interesting character, and could, confronted with less melodramatic situations, emerge as a really interesting clerical detective. He certainly makes a determined investigator.

There is a full list of the author's qualifications and achievements on the University of Dubuque site.

Please sign my GUEST BOOK. All comments, contributions (or corrections) welcomed!


The First Stone cover
The book is only available as an eBook - but this makes it quite inexpensive.
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