City of Peace

Henry G. Brinton
Koehler Books, 242 pages
Reviewed by Michael F. Frosolono

Henry Brinton, a Presbyterian pastor, crafted this novel that captures a reader’s attention without devolving into sloppy sentimentality or invoking miracles to facilitate the story. “City of Peace” incorporates fast action and believable characters, and illustrates the value of the radical hospitality Jesus advocated.

Harley Camden, 57 years of age and at the peak of his career, pastors a growing and large United Methodist Church in Sterling, Virginia, with a large staff that produces programs running seven days a week. He leads his congregation through the narrow corridor between the Scylla of the Religious Right and the Charybdis of the Secular Left. Harley’s sermons avoid overt politics but, instead, help people follow Jesus by feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, visiting prisoners and welcoming strangers.

Harley’s world disintegrates when Islamic terrorists kill his wife and college-aged daughter while they are on a European trip. His grief and rage propel him to hate all Muslims, not only the Islamics who attacked his family. Harley begins to seriously abuse alcohol, his sermons become listless and he deteriorates into a drag on his church community. After a year, Harley’s bishop assigns him to a much smaller church in Occoquan, Virginia, located south of Sterling. The bishop encourages Harley to reflect and to heal because she believes he has several promising ministerial years ahead of him.

Occoquan lacks the hustle and bustle of the much larger suburban Sterling, which causes Harley to believe the apparent serenity of the smaller town and church will facilitate his healing. Unexpected events in Occoquan devastate this hope for a peaceful recovery: The threat of an attack by Islamic extremists follows the murder, under mysterious circumstances, of a daughter of the town’s Iraqi baker.

Harley helps the son of the Iraqi baker escape from being used in a terroristic strike against a nearby military facility. Harley, some of his congregants and other members of the community come together to forestall a potentially violent assault on the town by an Islamic motorcycle gang. Harley reaches out to his neighbors, including Muslims and Coptic Christians, in order to build a coalition to protect his flock and the town from the increasing violence.

I recommend this book to readers who want to carry out the Great Commission, to build communities reflecting the peace of Christ and to counteract the divisive and violent nature of our times. In addition to these lofty aims, “City of Peace” is a rousing good story, not only for readers familiar with Judeo-Christian principles but also for those who will enjoy an absorbing, well-written and well-plotted story.

Michael F. Frosolono is the author “Beyond Duty” and a collection of newspaper columns, “Thoroughly Biased Opinions.” He lives in Buena Vista, Colorado.