Sentinel’s Choice: Michael E. Witzgall
Absolution, redemption, forgiveness are supposed to be some tenets that the Catholic Church aspires to when someone wants to atone for their sins. But, what happens when you disagree with their way of thinking, go against what they believe and decide to enact your own brand of justice ridding the world of those that might have been or are accused of wrong doings. Pedophiles, gays, those that speak out for gays, women’s rights or even wanting women to have a stronger voice in the Catholic Church, have to atone for their sins and deal with the justice that three priests decided would fit their crimes.
From the start of this novel we understand that there is an underlying cause for each incident from the beginning. A prologue that centers on Detective Renee LaFleet in the hospital with extensive injuries. Explaining that there is much more to his story, flashing back to his tour in Iraq, meeting his commanding officer and feeling the shots and pain that went through him landing him in the hospital there is much more to this Detective’s story as she tells it from the beginning.
Someone has decided to target religious leaders. The setting is Dallas, Texas and those assigned to handle the numerous murders that seem to be occurring at an unusual fast clip are assigned to a unit called Capers. Unit Sergeant Detective Renee LaFleet is chosen to lead the investigation along with his partner Tex. Ren, as most refer to him, was a Marine Force Reconnaissance Officer and tough. As the story unfolds we meet his superiors, the head or chief of Capers Harold Wong, his Lieutenant Rachel Aka Mom, Saxen and several other investigators that become embroiled in solving these cases. Ren working overtime with his team including the two investigative reporters, we learn much about police procedure, how a crime scene is handled and then hear the voices of three priests as they discuss the murder of Father Lanton whose murder we experience first and then Father Redcliff. Two killers or maybe even three as they rid of the world of those that go against what they believe. Father Lanton was accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old female but was exonerated. However, even though he was declared innocent, someone felt he was not. Three small shots perfectly grouped killed him, Father Reese, Father Raul Valdez in Argentina as each victim pondered his life, his wrong doings before someone silenced them forever. Every step of the way the author invites readers to listen to the meetings, the brainstorming sessions, how the case will proceed and the thinking of everyone involved. Anyone that wants to go into law enforcement or is in law enforcement would learn a lot from reading this novel.
Fathers Michael Leopole and Karl Kothner play an integral part in helping or appearing to help the police with their cases. Questioned, telling just enough to satisfy them many other organizations would be called in before the final reveal. FBI profiling that seemed like a cookie cutter or stamped out profile that could fit anyone or be made to fit the killer if necessary. Allowing the two priests to witness the crime scene and be privy to inside information meant they could be trusted. Chief of Police Smyth wanted the case solved even before the ink or final words were typed in their preliminary reports and he seemed to have another personal agenda that will surprise readers as you get to know more about him, the case and what Ren and Tex incur. Throughout the novel our main character enlightens readers as to his take on the FBI, Internal Affairs and Interpol. Quite interesting to learn how they operate and why many different branches often clash and investigation get clogged like a sink that does not drain when too many personalities and suits are in the same room wanting to take the credit for solving the crime.
Meet the man behind the murders: Father Richard Shannon hiding in plain sight yet not really going unnoticed. His purpose in committing these murders has yet to be revealed as we hear his voice loud and clear before taking out Father Redcliff and explaining why not only he had to be eliminated but his lawyer too. Father Redcliff cleared of all charges was according to Shannon and in his own words: a “piece of effal,” who had spread terror into the hearts of those “least capable of defending themselves.” Taking his gun, Shannon fired his handgun three times and the Father was dead. Next, Grayson Riggs, the man who felt that his client should not go free, voiced his thoughts with the police but unfortunately it would not prevent what happened next. Was he guilty of aiding and abetting in crimes against humanity? According to Richard Shannon he was.
Enter Detectives Miller and Hill whose investigative skills were outstanding and two Special Investigators assigned to the case but definitely not helpful to Ren and his team. But, the position of the victims was unique as they were posed as if punished as if they had sinned against his religion. Added in the killer fixed the clothes of the victims and made it look like a crucifixion. As the case preceded it was surmised that there was more than one killer based on the following information: pedophiles who were thought to have beaten the wrap or have never been prosecuted. Next, religious people or people that are connected to the religious community and this killer believes that he/she did something wrong. Killing the pedophiles and anyone that this person thinks brought shame to the Catholic Church.
Going back as far as ten years the Chief of Capers shares with his team the profiles of all of the victims. Cases in many cases are the same but some have subtle differences as described on page 93. Why would the killer position the body in a crucifixion position? Each victim had controversial backgrounds yet one victim stands out to Ren looking like the fatal blow was surgical. But, within every investigation there might be a scapegoat as the police question a young teen with Down syndrome named Randy who had entered the home of one of the victims and found the body. Thinking he was in trouble he managed to make a strong stand before telling the police his story and being freed.
With the Chief down their throats, the Public Integrity Unit called in there were many voices that were heard, so stifled and others surprised by what would happen next. But, as they were planning strategy the killer took out another victim this time Reverend Randal Whitehouse. But, the chief seemed out of sorts, working out at the Dallas Police Academy he sparred with Ren and injured him to the point that he need medical attention. Not understanding why and just who would leak the information to the press, you begin to wonder just whose side the Chief is on and what is real agenda might be? But, as the Special Investigators ransacked one of the victims homes Ren and his team found something that might break it open it wide. Tough tactics involved, doing what needed to be done but one man that was relentless in his pursuit and his brand of justice.
As the Red Flags finally waved brightly as Ren begins to see a pattern that makes him wonder about Shannon and his part in the murders. Added in a short conversation changes things. The cases pile up and someone is acting strange as the truth behind the identity of the serial killer comes to light. When the team comes into place and the next victim is realized what happens next will surprise readers as Ren puts his life on the line for the team, for one victim and to save the lives that this insane killer plans to take.
From the opening page the author keeps readers so fixed to the printed page with a story line that will keep you wondering just who this killer might be, why this person thinks it is God’s work he is doing and the end result that would change the lives of many. Police procedures followed, rules broken, two partners that take more than one bullet. What if the enemy is someone that you are supposed to trust? What happens when the bodies pile up, the agencies conflict and the end result you just won’t believe? Facing the killer, a gun in his back, no one in sight and three hostages awaiting their fate as Ren just might pay the ultimate price to take a diabolical killer down. The ending will surprise readers and the fate of Father Shannon has yet to be decided. Will Ren defend his brother his friend? Will he try to hunt him down to pay for his crimes? Is what he did in the Marines any different than what Shannon is doing to vindicate those priests and nuns that were killed or those that were wronged?
Loyalties, deceits, betrayals, friendships, procedures and protocols are all tested as author Michael Witzgall leads readers through a heart stopping ending that will give you much pause for thought, make you wonder what is next for Ren has to decide whether to remain a Sentinel: a soldier stationed as a guard to challenge all comers and prevent a surprise attack or will he let someone else take the watch. This is one novel that provides much room for discussions by law enforcement agents, police, church groups and students wanting to become officers. The research, the real life experience as part of a real SWAT team and his experience in the Marines all shines through. This is a must read. He is right up there with Baldacci, Berry and Freeman.
Fran Lewis: Reviewer