Fathers House by C. Edward Baldwin is written for an uncommon reader: the thoughtful thrill-seeker. Often times the grotesque scenes are juxtaposed with people simply living life, dealing with paperwork, or stuck on a stagnate case they don’t understand. The villain’s motivations of power and control are clearly presented, and the number one antagonist holds at least one insanity card in his hand. The push and pull of villains in the shadows gives the reader a sense that the main characters lack free will and are rudderless. All these elements make this an engrossing novel, but some may find the horrific-ness of some of the scenes difficult to read.
Fathers House centers on the dealings of a crime syndicate and its infiltration at all levels of what seems like a pleasant, law-abiding city in the South. The reader is quickly introduced to Fathers House, a halfway home for delinquent and orphaned youth in Duraleigh, N.C.
Baldwin introduces a large cast of characters who will weave the plot twists and turns in his opening chapters. Reading the first few chapters that set-up the story may be daunting, but do read on. However, once the reader pushes through, the story picks up pace while the tension ratchets up at breakneck speed.
Our protagonist is Ben Lovison, an assistant district attorney who is touted as a community role model, in part due to his humble beginnings as an orphan in Fathers House and a shining example of Mayo Fathers’ community work. Lovison, who was abandoned by his father, is now an expecting father of twins. The reader receives brief flashes of what Lovision tries to expect parenthood to be like without the benefit of parents to emulate except for Mayo Fathers. Fatherhood in one way or another is a central theme throughout the work.
The plot initially focuses on Lovison’s investigation of Cain Simmons, a teenage rapper at Fathers House indicted in the murder of another young man. Lovison is half detective, half lawyer, and more than competent at his job. But after Cain’s apparent suicide, Lovison begins wandering without direction, unsure now that he has no one to prosecute.
The narrative slides between adults working for Fathers Disciples, adults supposedly working for the good of society, adults working for the law, and finally the children who are at their mercy. Each character is trapped in a world where no one is trustworthy once their illusions are shattered.
Ben Lovison’s world is crushed as he discovers the dark truth behind his boyhood foster home, his mother’s murder, and the disappearance of his own father. As the novel continues, it becomes clear that it is not about any one character, but the effects the Fathers Disciples have on those whose lives they try to control and wield power over.
The Fathers Disciples’ development as a crime syndicate works well. The disciples decide which youths they will use for the syndicate and which are the ones who will go out into the world as Lovison did, thereby, keeping up the façade for Mayo Fathers, the owner of the house and its hidden torture chamber. Lovison somehow stays on the Fathers Disciples’ radar as a potential threat, but they deem Lovison as just a fly on the wall.
The twists and turns of Fathers House will satisfy readers who find non-obvious connections connecting devilishly amusing. Juxtaposition of the bribery, murders, and power plays against Baldwin’s subliminal questioning of free will and what really drives all of our lives is not highlighted in an initial reading, but in the undercurrent subtext. This is yet another example of how Baldwin’s story engages the reader in unexpected ways. Parts like the end, which will not satisfy all readers (blink and you will miss it), are balanced by a well thought-out story arc, and the slow reveal of the darkness everyone is capable of holding in their secret heart.
Fathers House is a bloody and suspenseful debut thriller by C. Edward Baldwin that deals with the brutal undercurrents of crime in modern society.