The Shepherd’s Calculus
Cavan Bridge Press, 2017
There is never a lack of political thrillers because the audience for this kind of story is almost immortal. The machinations of elites and those in power will always possess a voyeuristic allure. Culturally, we’ve seen television shows like The West Wing and more recently House of Cards draw in millions of viewers as policy, protocols, and plots unfold in a whirling drama at once ridiculously far-fetched and eerily prescient. In the literary world, too often the setting is that of espionage, whether action/adventure or duplicitous dealings. While absolutely worthy of interest and in no small part praise, it feels like there is a something lacking in the genre as though entire realms of storytelling are being ignore even though they could provide equally compelling fiction.
Enter C.S. Farrelly’s debut The Shepherd’s Calculus taking readers into the world of politics on the ground (campaigning for the US presidency) as well as politics in our hearts (the faith obeyed or not in our religions). A glaring flaw in a program like House of Cards is it gives no quarter to the very real, complex, and challenge religious practices of not just the political class but of the voting public. Here is where Farrelly stands out. Farrelly grounds her novel by weaving not just top-down political but bottom-up religious drama. Through the point of views from a committed campaign worker and a traumatized investigative journalist, we readers get a challenging and intriguing novel.
Peter Merrick, a journalist circling the maelstrom of PTSD due to his time war reporting, is called on to write a eulogy of a Jesuit priest but in the process discovers a web of abuse. Merrick’s instincts can’t take a back seat even though his faith is tried as he follows the path his mentor took to allow the Church to escape justice. In the corridors of political power, Ally Larkin is rising up the ranks of the incumbent president’s campaign but soon starts to pull on threads that entangle her with Merrick’s investigations. Both discover their leaders, in church and state, are more concerned with consolidation of power than saving souls or caring for the public trust. This, of course, means that Merrick and Larkin go from allies to enemies of the institutions they once so loved.
Farrelly writes sharp, compelling chapters that do an excellent job of doling out reveals, complications, and clues which leave both the characters and the readers actively engaging with the world of the story. Also, there’s a satisfying fairness to the depictions of the clergy and politicians, meaning they are not presented as cartoonish bad guys. A thriller is only as strong as its plot, and Farrelly does a skillful job of taking stories we are all too familiar with (political corruption and opportunism on the campaign trail and the very real priest abuse and cover-up scandal) and making them visceral and seemingly new.
All in all, The Shepherd’s Calculus presents us with a new voice in the genre, one that is strong and deft. Farrelly has written an excellent novel, one that will satisfy the more ardent reader of political thrillers, and announced herself as an author to watch.
C.S. Farrelly was raised in Wyoming and Pennsylvania. A graduate of Fordham University (BA, English), her eclectic career has spanned a Manhattan investment bank, the NYC Department of Education and, most recently, the British Government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She was a 2015 Presidential Leadership Scholar and obtained a master’s degree from Trinity College Dublin, where she was a George J. Mitchell scholar. Her master’s research on immigration in contemporary Ireland has appeared in domestic and international journals and she has also freelanced for The Irish Echo newspaper.
A playwright and producer in her spare time, she served for 10 years on the board of the Origin Theatre Company. Her one-act play, Exit or Transfer Here, was staged by the Looking Glass Theater and another work, Arklow Blue, was produced by Turtle Shell Productions. Her most recent play, Relief, received a staged reading as part of the annual 1st Irish Theatre Festival.
Farrelly has lived in New York City, Washington, D.C., Ireland and England. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her family. THE SHEPHERD’S CALCULUS is her first novel.