Book Review: Epiphany by Nickolae Gerstner

When a priest becomes embroiled in a murder mystery and his past and his present collide in a dramatic fashion, will his divine calling be tested?

Nickolae Gerstner invites the reader to partake in a thrilling ride in her incredible novel Epiphany. Epiphany is an intense story, yet it is effectively balanced by emotional moments that will grip readers.

Philip Rockcastle is a 42-year-old priest in a neighborhood parish who drives a red convertible that was given to him by his older brother Charles, a successful divorce lawyer.  Readers are quick to learn that while Philip was drawn to serve God at a young age, circumstances that occurred in his life have caused him to wrestle with his decision not once but twice.  Still, it is clear that he is committed to his parishioners’ spiritual health. He is a man who cares deeply which endears him as a character.

Gerstner opens her book in a powerful manner where the reader becomes a silent voyeur to a parishioner’s  confession. The confession scene is chilling. Leonard Wilson is a local man who is tormented by claims of nefarious pursuers and driven by guilt over his own actions. Philip offers spiritual guidance but is doubtful of Leonard’s confession. When a body is discovered at Humboldt Park, Philip is thrust into the murder investigation by several sources.

The ensuing murder mystery is a compelling suspense hook that makes the core plot irresistible. But there are equally fascinating subplots to hold reader interest. Philip befriends Tara DeVecchio, a single mother raising two young boys. Gerstner writes Tara quite well. Readers see a strong character focused on her sons’ well-being despite her difficult life. Further, her scenes with Philip are pivotal to the plot. Arguably, Tara also strengthens Philip as a character and renders him more accessible to readers.

When Gerstner masterfully writes, “He was always Father and regretted that he would never be called Philip, let alone a casual Phil,” there is a sense that this isn’t a mere throw away line, but a skilled piece of foreshadowing.

A mysterious woman attends Philip’s catechism class. This young woman, first identified as Jane Doe but later called Dominique, figures predominantly in the murder mystery as well as Philip’s story.  In addition, Gerstner does a wonderful job writing the various parishioners as valuable supporting characters to flesh out the plots.  Philip’s older brother Charles is written as an intelligent and sensitive man doubtful of Philip’s connection to Dominique and concerned for his brother’s welfare. Charlie’s daughter Charlene rises above the rich girl stereotype and is portrayed as a headstrong woman focused on her own mission. The twenty-two year old forges an alliance with Dominique. Dominique’s backstory is riveting and poignant. Gerstner does a stellar job contrasting Charlene and Dominique’s characters. I found both women quite likeable.

Other notable supporting characters on Epiphany’s canvas include Nick Crane, one of Philip’s “difficult” parishioners who emerges as a focal character in the murder mystery as well as an unlikely ally for various other characters and Jerry Finlay, a retired cop turned private investigator on Charles Rockcastle’s payroll.

Finally, what I also found refreshing about this book is how wonderfully Gerstner intersected the destinies of so many characters. Each character experiences, in some manner, his or her own epiphany about the past/present that serves to impact the future.

Epiphany is an appropriate title for this fictional marvel that will leave readers spellbound.

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