Small-town America always has its prejudices; its own political intrigues and its deep secrets.
In most cases this darkside to local communities is delicately hidden behind a thin veneer of group consensus and the need for social harmony. However every now and again the dam breaks open and the dark, repressed elements to small-town life are blown apart through through one form of scandal or another.
Such is the theme of Children of Covenant – a novel by Fred Howard; a minister of the Unitarian Church of Valdosta, Georgia and author of the book Transforming Faith: Stories of Change From a Lifelong Spiritual Seeker which justifiably earned him the Nautilus Book Award.
A Murder Mystery
Howard’s story opens with a failed property acquisition; an event that appears to lead to the death of a well-known and respected resident of the fictional town of August Valley.
When a small group of local Muslims decide that they wish to purchase a property in the heart of the town to use as a mosque they send along Ismael Hargarson to head the negotiations.
Less than forty-eight hours later, whilst on his way to work as a university professor, Hargarson is arrested on suspicion of being involved in the death of the current owner of the very property that he was seeking to acquire.
Was the man’s death as a result of a murderous psychopath or was it simply a case of suicide? At first no-one in the town seems sure but as the story unfolds an increasing number of people; many of whom carry dark secrets of their own, come under suspicion of nefarious acts of one type and another leading to the atmosphere around the town becoming increasingly emotionally-charged.
As the paintwork that masks the prejudices, fears and paranoia of the town slowly begins to peel away so this results in the shattering of the illusion of a comfortable, mainly white, middle-class, community surrounded by neatly-kept lawns and pristine white-picket fences.
As the atmosphere darkens so it become obvious that things are not as they at first seem.
Our Review of Children of Covenant by Fred Howard
Fred Howard has already established himself as an engaging and illuminating writer on diverse religious and spiritual matters. Indeed we made his excellent book Transforming Faith our book of the month back in March 2015.
In Children of Covenant he proves that he has the capacity to be equally entertaining in the genre of fiction – except that this is no ordinary fictional tale but one that illuminates the current growing social divide between Islam and Christian values.
Into this story Howard weaves factual historical drama, adds his own observation of social ignorance as it is expressed towards a handful of minority groups and highlights the present fear within a society borne from a changing America – a country which has a rapidly changing demographic.
Added to this, and concurrent with social attitudes to immigrant Muslims, he raises issues related to the way that homosexuals in particular have become unfairly marginalised by certain elements of more traditional small communities.
With a tale that rattles along, an engaging narrative and the inclusion of a wide variety of colorful characters Children of Covenant makes for a somewhat disturbing but poignant commentary on the current state of post-Trump election America today.
We recommend Children of Covenant as a book of its time and an excellent example of how subjects that some may find tricky to deal with can in fact be treated both sympathetically and with consummate understanding.