Chief Among Sinners by Lois K. Gibson is a crime mystery with a cover that promises revelations of secrets that are really not so secret in a small town. The story starts out strong with a murder in the first few pages perpetrated by one person that the reader will immediately suspect. A few pages later the possibility of one or two other suspects arises. Then the strong prologue ends and a lull occurs for approximately five chapters. This is where the author introduces most of her characters, something about their backgrounds, and the context that will move characters to interact.
It is this context that makes the story lag. Father Terry O’Reilly has found an offering of a dead goldfish outside his church. A toothpick propped open its mouth, a hat pin came out the back of its head, and there was a red ribbon taped to the rim of the accompanying fishbowl. Because this occurred close to Halloween, his first thought was a prank but it seemed there had to be some sort of symbolic meaning to the way the offering was presented. A week later there was a dead chipmunk, with a toothpick, hatpin, and ribbon but all presented in a box. The following week a dead bat appeared, a week later there was a rat, all presented with the same symbols. Father Terry had had enough, he asked for help from his good friend Herb, a Rabbi. These two would eventually ask for help from Kurt, a Lutheran minister. The three would ask for help from Oakton’s Chief of Police, Chief Scott Adams. By the time the Chief was involved, a birthing rabbit, the largest dead animal to appear, had arrived.
Up to this point, the story reads quite slowly because each time a new character is introduced the entire litany of the “wee beasties” is repeated as each character is brought up to speed on the order of the strange appearances. Somewhere around chapter seven we finally have almost everybody aware of a problem and from here on the story moves along well and keeps the reader interested with a steady pace of revelations. Some may be more shocking than others such as those relating to religion but because they are all shocking they are all spoilers and except for the above I will mention nothing more about content. Just note that this is a dark story which might offend many.
Character development is quite interesting in the way the characters unexpectedly change. Kate, the Chief’s daughter is studying law but exhibits a naivete that would make me shy away from hiring her for anything involving logical thought. Brother Dan starts out as a trustworthy sort but turns into something pretty unlikeable. The characters of Rabbi Herb and Father O’Reilly are many times heroic. This was a fun read as far as characters go.
The ending might confuse some and make others unhappy. I think I found the ending, the answer, the solution but some may consider it unclear. Despite the darkness of the story I found this to be a well-told story and will read other works by this author. Fans of Murder on the Orient Express will like this.