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At a moment when the seal of confession is coming under attack all over the world, Aurelio Porfiri has crafted a thrilling novel that illustrates the importance of the sacred space of the confessional for bringing evildoers to justice. This murder mystery has intrigue, suspense, politics, history, and faith all wrapped into one compelling story that can be easily read in one sitting and is suspenseful enough that it cannot easily be put down.
The Confession is a human story of loneliness, desire, and sin: two Filipino women’s night on the town in Hong Kong leads to one of them being murdered in a hotel room. It is a story of courageous redemption: the surviving woman seeks relief and God’s help by going to speak with a priest in confession about what happened, and her action leads to a chain of events beyond any one person’s control. It is a story of doubt and the faith that underlies doubt: the priest is struggling even to believe in God, yet he is determined to do what is right. He is tempted to reveal what he knows about the crime in order to help the investigation, and he also wonders what exactly is permissible for him to do to help the people who have been affected by the murder. It is a story of corruption of the good: the various levels of law enforcement and government involved in the story all have their own unique agendas, not all of it honorable, and they are willing to use each other’s knowledge and cooperation to achieve their own ends, even at the cost of human life.
The Confession is also inherently a story of Hong Kong and its unique politics and history. The reader enters an exotic and chaotic world of teeming masses of people, competing ethnic identities, multicultural overlay, and the sensual reality of life in the financial and economic capital of Asia.
Porfiri’s prose draws us at a rapid pace into the varied and competing perspectives of the numerous characters involved in the unfolding drama. Their inner struggles with faith, belief in what is right, selfishness, and the desire to do the good while finding ways to justify evil draw the reader into each character’s complex situation and set of decisions. There is a classic “whodunit” suspense to the plot, yet each character’s unique circumstances invite the reader to ponder how each person’s background, motivations, and decisions — not all of them good and upright — play a role in the unfolding of the drama.
The Catholic faith and the present chaotic state of the Church and the priesthood are a subplot to the story. There are several priests of differing background and perspective, and their interactions and conflicts are quite realistic. The author seems to want to show the reader that priests are human and also very much the product of the eras in which they may have been formed and ordained. An old, wise priest plays the role of a background hero in the story, and his patience and wisdom strengthen and inspire a younger and uncertain priest as he decides what to do. The author seems to be making a subtle point here: there is wisdom in the Christian faith that cannot be learned in books; it must be learned by walking in faith over the course of a lifetime. The story of The Confession illustrates how that happens for the various people drawn into the complex story of a seemingly insignificant murder in an overwhelmingly vast city.
The Confession delves deeply into the political struggle of Hong Kong for independence from China. At times, this is a bit detailed and may be difficult for a reader not familiar with this particular part of the world to follow and understand. But the author keeps the pace of the story moving along briskly, and his literary technique of jumping back and forth between the perspectives of numerous intertwined points of view, converging on an unexpected resolution that brings them all together, gives the reader the satisfaction of not knowing what is coming next with every turn of the page.
No spoilers here, but the basic story of The Confession is that, were it not for the sacrament of confession, a lot more evil would have happened that would have had dramatic political and social effects on a large modern metropolis. And, in a mysterious way, since confession does not happen unless there is first a sin committed, The Confession is also the story of how a sin that is committed leads — by the hand of Providence — to a far greater good ultimately happening. Does that sound familiar?
God’s redeeming love works through a great amount of human weakness, selfishness, fear, and shame. That’s why this story is ultimately encouraging, inviting the reader to believe that despite our frequent human failures, God is writing a story that is ultimately good and far bigger and better than any of us can expect.
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