THIS SIDE OF JORDAN

A novel by Bill Kassel

Company Publications, 2005

383 pages, $14.95

Available in online bookstores

In writing this novel, Bill Kassel put himself in something of a dilemma. What non-PC publisher would want to handle a 380-page story dealing with homosexuality, and who among the politically incorrect — that is, those opposed to the agenda of homosexual-rights activists — would want to read it?

To be sure, there is a certain “ick factor” in dealing with the topic. Christian publishers and readers tend to shy away from openly discussing it. Yet Kassel realizes that there is a concerted attack on the moral values of society and the Church as the “gay” lobby tries to force its agenda on the rest of the country through the courts and the media. His contention is that we must fight back.

Kassel successfully overcomes the dilemma, and does us all a favor in the process. He encases the subject within the medium of a mystery novel, the result being not a boring, barely palatable discussion foisted upon an unwary reader, but an intriguing story driven by genuine, page-turning suspense.

This Side of Jordan, like the first book in the series, Holy Innocents (which deals with abortion), is set in a small town. An outdoor theater production, meant to help revitalize the economy of the valley, instead brings death and mystery. From the opening pages, we are told that two people have died, and then we become swept up in the tale to discover who they were and how they met their demise. Along the way, the consequences of wrong choices and the devaluing of morals in our culture are made clear in a way that a non-fiction treatment probably couldn't have pulled off.

Entertainment, not teaching, defines the book. It has to, since no one wants to sit down for an hour of pleasure reading and have to wade through the complexities and unpleasantness of the causes and manifestations of same-sex attraction.

As for this reader, I found the story so quickly engrossing that, after reading the first two chapters, where the author establishes the characters and their story lines, I had the book as my constant companion.

Whether waiting for my car to be fixed, or during moments between meetings, I snuck in a few pages to see what was going to happen next and to discover another clue to the mystery. Finally, for the last 75 pages or so, I just gave in. I lay down on the sofa, forgot about my other work, and read through to the end.

While he is entertaining us, Kassel uses his host of characters to bring out the pros and cons, the nuances, the pain and emotions of the many sides of homosexuality-related issues. These are a reality in our society, and Kassel helps us deal with that fact. Karl Muller, an old, orthodox priest, presents Church teaching clearly, at times forcefully. All the same, Christians aren't let off the hook. Throughout, judgmentalism and hypocrisy are shown to be severe handicaps in the culture wars; only truth and love will win this battle.

In places, the characters struck me as somewhat stereotypical. But I found it easy to overlook the occasional lapses in depth thanks to Kassel's ability to develop and deepen the unfolding drama.

Perhaps the most powerful section of the book is when the protagonist, Alan Kemp, a convert to the Catholic faith and music director for his parish, seeks out psychologist Bruce Bellingham in order to understand the reasons behind same-sex attraction. Bellingham's approach is key to the story as he describes the clinical aspects of homosexuality — aspects that proponents of the gay lifestyle often try to hide.

Bellingham responds to Kemp's questioning by offering a clear explanation of homosexuality, one that should be eye-opening and useful to anyone on either side of the “gay-rights” movement. I won't trace Bellingham's logical line of reasoning and compelling conclusions here. After all, this is a mystery.

Bob Horning writes from Ann Arbor, Michigan.