Ben Rehder is well-recognized for his satirical and irreverent approach to social issues. “Holy Moly,” Rehder's sixth installment of his Blanco County murder mysteries, takes on prosperity theology with a vengeance. His confluence of motley characters in this comedy of errors manages to disassemble a Dallas mega-church, strewing chunks of theological waste, murder and mayhem in its wake.
“Four days before he died, a thirty-year-old backhoe operator named Hollis Farley drove thirty miles to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Marble Falls, Texas, and purchased a four-thousand-dollar sixty-inch plasma television,” writes Rehder in his opening paragraph.
Thus begins a tale of lust, power and greed that unravels at breakneck speed, littering the Texas Hill Country with remnants of false doctrine.
When Dallas “Pastorpreneur” Peter Boothe begins construction of a massive religious complex on a 16-acre ranch in Blanco County, Farley signs on as operator of a large backhoe to clear the parcel of land for construction. Unbeknown to the major players at the time, Farley unearths a valuable sauropod dinosaur fossil. With the realization that his find could be very valuable, he takes pictures of the reptile remains, drives to the University of Texas in Austin, and seeks out a professor of paleontology. After determining that the fossil could be worth as much as $1 million, Farley uses the public library to find a buyer. In short order, the Hill Country yokel is discovered crushed underneath his 8-ton wrecked backhoe.
When Sheriff Bobby Garza spots something suspicious about the corpse, he calls in his buddy, game warden John Marlin. Garza and Marlin agree that this was no accidental death. Entry and exit wounds were clearly visible in pictures, but Farley's mortal wounds were not the result of a gunshot. The shapes of the wounds were distinctly carved by an arrow.
So what righteous Texan would stoop to murder a bumpkin backhoe operator for a dinosaur fossil? Could it be the eccentric geology professor? A rich, outlandish multimillionaire collector with a peculiar dinosaur fetish? What about the good Rev. Peter Boothe, his greedy assistant Alex Pringle, or maybe even Vanessa, the reverend's statuesque trophy wife? These misguided misfits and others race through the pages of this hilarious whodunit until the puzzle is solved.
Rehder's characters are always memorable, as are his satirical plots. His style is entertaining and fun to read. With “Holy Moly,” however, the author has tightened up his dialogue and woven multiple subplots into even more readable scenarios.
“Holy Moly” is a story with which the reader can easily identify. The characters are real and recognizable. The plot, no matter how outrageous, is believable. And under the surface of theological cupidity flows redemption and an assurance that no matter how explosive a situation, ultimately, all will end well.
Author Ben Rehder signs copies of “Holy Moly” at 2 p.m. Saturday at Cody Branch Library, 11441 Vance Jackson.
Anita Porterfield is a Boerne writer.