Pastor Stephen Grant?

Stephen Grant is the pastor at St. Mary’s Lutheran Church on eastern Long Island. Grant is one of the more unique second-career clergy around, as he once worked for the CIA. Besides theology, his interests include archery, golf, writing, classic films, the beach, poker, baseball, and history. Grant also knows his wines, champagnes and brews. Oh yes, he generally dislikes politicians, and happens to be an expert marksman with a handgun and a rifle, while being pretty handy with a combat knife as well.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Is “The Shroud Conspiracy” an Anti-Dan-Brown Thriller – In a Good Way?

by Ray Keating

In his first thriller, John Heubusch, the executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, earns the moniker of being an anti-Dan-Brown novelist – and I mean that in a good way. The Shroud Conspiracy (Howard Books, New York, 2017, 402 pages, $26) ranks as an engrossing, easy page-turner, like much of Dan Brown’s work, but, unlike Brown, Heubusch shows respect for the Christianity in which the story is rooted.

Writing a Christian-based – in this case, Catholic – work of fiction can be tricky. After all, Christian fiction often can be sugary, with cardboard characters and stilted, unrealistic dialogue. Meanwhile, at the other extreme are works of fiction that dismiss or are hostile toward Christians or the Church.

Heubusch avoids these extremes. His book moves along nicely. His characters come across as real people, who act, speak and react in ways that seem reasonable, even as Heubusch puts them in fantasy-like situations. Indeed, he takes his characters and the readers on a wild ride weaving together the Vatican, Catholic relics, atheists, scientists, faithful Catholics and the misguided, likeable and not-so-likeable priests, a crazy cult, some globe-trotting, and both the miraculous and the heretical. Heck, there’s even a cute little dog that plays a role in this tale.

And there’s more that makes this more than just a shallow thriller. A question wrestled with by the characters in The Shroud Conspiracy is not if science and faith are necessarily in conflict, but rather, can science acknowledge that it has limitations?

The two main characters have an intriguing relationship. Domenika Jozef works for the Vatican, and Dr. Jon Bouderant is a scientist who the Vatican hires to put together a team of experts to test the validity of the Shroud of Turin. Sexual tension emerges between the two. But the will-they-or-won’t-they question is not necessarily about clashing personalities, but rather strikingly different worldviews. Domenika is a devout Catholic, while Jon is a very public atheist. It is Domenika who asks Jon: “Are you willing to agree that science may never be able to grasp the divine?” The question eventually is answered in an edge-of-the-seat, conspiracy-thriller manner.

As the fast-paced story unfolds involving the natural and the supernatural, the everyday and the miraculous, and the beliefs of individuals being put to the test, if you will, I thought of what the resurrected Jesus, after showing Thomas the marks of his wounds from being crucified, said: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Yes, this is a thriller that lends itself to reflection, debate and discussion.

The Shroud Conspiracy is packed with action, some big issues to ponder, and welcome character development. Unlike some thrillers and certain Christian fiction, Heubusch engages the reader on assorted levels.


Ray Keating is the author of the PASTOR STEPHEN GRANT NOVELS. The latest in the series is WINE INTO WATER. Coming soon is the seventh book in the series titled LIONHEARTS.

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