Novel by Katherine Walker
Thistledown Press, 2021
Reviewed by Tammi Carto
The title of Katherine Walker’s novel, All is Well, is intended to be ironic as we learn from the opening paragraph. There is a dead man lying on the rug in Reverend Christine Wright’s church office.
It’s late on Good Friday and it’s Christine’s first Easter as an Anglican priest. Despite the fact that she killed her attacker, Terry, in self defense, Christine ultimately decides to bury the body. Christine is ex-Special Forces in the Canadian military, so she can “dig a trench in six minutes. All will be well.” It takes a bit longer to dig a shallow grave, but nonetheless she rolls her attacker into it, rug and all.
The decision to cover up the death unfurls the rest of the darkly humorous narrative. Walker incites tension from the word ‘go’: Will the priest get away with murder? What is God up to? A recovering alcoholic struggling to reintegrate into civilian life, Christine thought God had pulled her out of hell, but wonders if she is actually still there. As a “freight train of justifications-—he was going for her throat, he was stoned and crazy—rushes through her mind,” she prays “to the God she hopes has her back.”
Christine tries to stay out of jail, battle against her own inner demons, resurrect a fledgling parish, and keep the church running smoothly. However, a wedding goes awry, a labyrinth construction gets water-logged, and nude models cause a kafuffle when student artists rent space in the church.
Walker creates a ragtag group of people as a supporting cast. Mrs. Dee is a church warden who takes her role—to safeguard the reputation and belongings of the church—seriously. She is deeply disturbed by Reverend Christine Wright: “What irks Mrs. Dee the most is that she has no way to control Christine. Christine is not employed by the parish, she is being paid by the military, so they get a priest for free.”
Joey is the spiritual advisor who absolves Christine from her sins and pushes her to reveal her internal struggle. Through their interactions, we see that Christine is a tortured soul. She feels like she is “in some kind of weird limbo. It’s as if her whole being is trying to upgrade to a new operating system and can’t quite handle the new software.”
Though the reverend is clearly struggling with her own spirituality, she is a beacon for others—like Tom, a recovering addict who works as a server in the church. “Tom brings Christine his heavy-duty issues. Each layer of recovery is harder. Sometimes it feels like recovery is killing him. The healing is too much…Christine gets it. On those days, she listens. She goes quiet. Then she says the right words to him. Every time.”
Despite her supporters and breakthroughs, there are two characters who have made it their mission to bring the reverend down. Shawna is Terry’s partner and the mother of his child. She is sure that the reverend knows details about his disappearance and will go to great lengths to expose the truth. Warrant Seth Kassman, a military police officer, has despised Christine since “she made him look like an idiot a few years back.” Before he retires, he makes it his mission to bring about Christine’s demise and will go to extremes to see it through.
With everything that Reverend Christine Wright has to contend with, All is Well makes a mockery of the title, embracing the sarcastic and ridiculous in turn. Told from multiple points of view, Walker navigates the reverend’s incomplete transition from sinner to saint.
Katherine Walker serves with the Royal Canadian Navy and is an ordained minister. All is Well is her debut novel and was a finalist for Crime Writers of Canada’s “Best First Crime Novel 2022.” Walker was born and raised in Calgary. Before joining the Navy, she studied fine arts and design and worked as a graphic designer.