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Published June 2017 on Sparkpress
Alphonse isn’t a hobo with a heart of gold, but in twenty years of riding the rails, he’s earned a reputation as a kindhearted soul always ready to help. When he helped the Sadlers, a young couple seeking a better life in small-town 1950s Indiana, he never meant to stay. But stay he did, keeping a close eye on the Sadlers and their two young sons—and an even closer eye on the town’s new priest, Father Brennon.
On the surface, Brennon seemed perfect for the job, but Alphonse had crossed paths with Brennon in the railyard jungle and knew better. Brennon didn’t recognize the old hobo, but Alphonse never forgot Brennon or his crimes.
The summer the Sadler’s son, Francis, turns 13, the death of a prominent member of the congregation is blamed on decades of accumulated pigeon droppings in the church’s bell tower. Brennon assigns Francis the thankless task of cleaning and maintaining the tower, work that often continues into the night. When Alphonse’s worst fears are confirmed, he discovers that Francis has blocked out the terrible details of Brennon’s abuse. Alphonse must find a way to protect Francis while revealing the truth to the Sadler family, ultimately driving Brennon to leave town in shame.
Thanks to Booksparks media relations for the review opportunity!
I knew going into Alphonse that it had some pretty dark subject matter, however, the author was sensitive to the fact that some material is better when not described in excruciating detail, which I greatly appreciated. Although there are certainly some intense scenes, they were handled well.
I grew to care deeply for the kids and the parents, and even by the end Alphonse himself, and he’s not your most likeable character, which speaks to the author’s power of persuasion. Human empathy is a powerful motivator. And we see great results from its power in this novel.
I’m not one to shy away from deep reads, and felt this one towed the line between heavy and heartwarming, never venturing into sticky sweet or anything. IF you want to read something different, not quite contemporary and not quite mystery, this would be a great weekend pick!
Carl Sever began writing fiction in part because of his interest in the 1930s dustbowl, hobo culture and lore, and small-town Midwestern life, especially in areas dominated by the Roman Catholic Church. His writing has also been an important part of recovery from a traumatic brain injury he suffered in a car accident in 1990.
Carl’s been a teacher (Ohio and Colorado, in English composition, literature, journalism, and photography), a journalist, and nature photographer. He’s been a businessman and co-owner of an exclusive wholesale photo lab. He’s an avid outdoorsman, passionate fly-fisherman, and adventurer who has explored the mountains of Colorado, Montana, Canada, and Alaska, including summiting Mount Denali when he was 42 years old. His travels have taken him to Costa Rica and Panama, reinforcing his study of Spanish as a second language. He’s a lifelong learner, with studies ranging from screenwriting and sculpture to nature photography. Alphonse is his first novel.