The Shepherd's Calculus
SUSPENSE/THRILLER POLITICAL MYSTERY DRAMA RELIGIOUS CRIME
SPOTLIGHT; THE POST; THE KEEPERS; ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN; THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR
PETER MERRICK: 40S. LEAD. DETERMINED AND CONFIDENT.
ALLY LARKIN: 20S. IDEALISTIC CAMPAIGN STAFFER WHO HELPS PETER WITH HIS INVESTIGATION.
OWEN FEENEY: 50/60S. THE VILLAIN OF THE STORY WHO TRIES TO STOP PETER, LIFELONG FRIEND OF INGRAM.
JAMES INGRAM: 50-60S. PETER’S LATE MENTOR, WHOSE DEATH LEADS PETER TO THE TRUTH.
MILTON CASEY: 40-50S. CHIEF OF THE REELECTION CAMPAIGN FOR PRESIDENT WYNCOTT, ALLY’S BOSS AND FEENEY’S CO-CONSPIRATOR.
STEVE TILDEN: 20S. ALLY’S COWORKER WHO STEALS HER WORK.
When journalist Peter Merrick stumbles upon evidence connecting his mentor to a political scandal involving a sexual abuse cover-up, he must choose between his mentor’s legacy or justice.
Target Gender: Universal
Washington, DC, New York City (and suburbs)
Based on a True Story
Status: Yes: self-published
Publisher: Cavan Bridge Press
Year Published: September 2017
Shell-shocked war correspondent Peter Merrick discovers a box of letters from his mentor, a Jesuit priest, apologizing to sexual abuse victims. In searching for the truth about his friend, he uncovers a deal between the Church and a politician that trades justice for the victims for election votes.
With the help of Ally Larkin, a young and idealistic campaign staffer, Peter expose the lengths to which the Church will go to avoid accountability for abuse. Ally and Peter gain a momentary victory, only to realize that the wider corruption of power between religion and politics will endure.
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Hard Copy Available
Mature Audience Themes
Plot - Other Elements
Happy Ending,Philosophical Questions,Meaningful Message
Plot - Premise
Main Character Details
Name: Peter Merrick
Key Traits: Complex,Adventurous,Empathetic,Faithful,Confident,Decisive,Educated,Honorable,Outspoken,Strong Moral Code
Additional Character Details
Name: Ally Larkin
Key Traits: Aspiring,Empathetic,Flexible,Faithful,Educated,Honorable,Leader,Funny,Selfless,Religious,Patriotic,Underdog,Sophisticated,Strong Moral Code
Additional Character Details
Name: Owen Feeney, S.J.
Age: Late 50s, early 60s
Key Traits: Villainous,Narcisstic,Religious,Power Hungry,Charming,Aggressive,Faithful,Greedy,Educated,Leader,Secretive,Sophisticated,Unapologetic
Additional Character Details
The author has not yet written this
A fast-paced political thriller that expertly weaves three different stories into a collision of intrigue, THE SHEPHERD’S CALCULUS examines what happens when the cornerstones of American identity—capitalism and religion—clash with its principals of justice. The story may be fiction but the themes are as true to life as they come. The plot is centered on election meddling by a foreign power, the growing political influence of Latino Americans, the Catholic Church abuse scandal, and a deal made among various power players to get what they want. Drawing comparisons to the fiction of Graham Greene, THE SHEPHERD’S CALCULUS puts a unique spin on the abuse scandal next to recent mainstream nonfiction pieces like “Spotlight” and “The Keepers,” by providing a unique perspective on the scandal from a financial and political angle. The story builds on this strength by adding richly drawn characters who struggle to reconcile complex relationships with personal faith and religion. Like John Le Carre’s “The Constant Gardener” and Netflix’s “House of Cards,” THE SHEPHERD’S CALCULUS takes an unflinching look at democracy, idealism and the price paid in between. With three distinct stories that intertwine for an explosive resolution, complex and engaging main characters, and timely themes, the story lends itself a film adaptation or limited series.
RELIGION, POLITICS, DRAMA, SUSPENSE
A journalist is asked to write a piece eulogizing his mentor, a Catholic priest who taught at his university. He discovers evidence of a vast cover-up within the Catholic Church’s network in America while doing so, as well as political ties to the current president who is trying to win reelection. While managing his own PTSD and attempting to salvage his marriage, the journalist continues his mentor’s work in bringing the truth to light in order to help the victims of abuse.
Authors Writing Style: GOOD
Franchise Potential: GOOD
Accuracy of Book Profile
Overall, the Book Profile accurately reflects the novel. The only change might be to the target audience. Though the book is largely universal, it’s likely to attract an older audience.
Draw of Story
The book begins with a quite literal bang, or at least the memory of it. Starting with (part of) Peter’s experience in Kashmir is a terrific entrance into this story. It immediately establishes the horror the audience will encounter in regards to the abuse, as well as some hint of what Peter is dealing with. Holding out this mystery for a long time is also great, as it hooks the audience into wanting more. Shortly after this, some 30 pages in, Mulcahy’s experience with a sexually abusive priest is also suspenseful and terrifying. Both of these moments add a boost to the pace of the book right away.
Though the book starts out on a fast pace, and finds that successful pace again well before its end, it does lose it somewhat after Mulcahy’s encounter. Until Peter goes to Wisconsin to see an abuse survivor, nearly one-hundred pages later, the plot doesn’t advance much. The most exciting thing that happens in these in-between pages is Steve stealing Ally’s proposal. Is there a way to make this moment more dramatic, somehow? Or to even have it occur a little earlier in the book? Tthere’s a good deal of character and world building in these one-hundred pages. While this is necessary to the later plot, finding a way to disperse this and avoid the stall would help for a consistent, quicker read throughout.
Use of Special Effects
THE STORY DOES NOT RELY ON SPECIAL EFFECTS
Primary Hook of Story
Though the journalism angle has been done in this type of story before, the political one is wholly new, plus Peter’s journey to find the truth is tied so closely to his personal journey through grief and recovery that it feels fresh. This isn’t what he sets out to discover, nor is it what Ally is in Washington for, so their joint unraveling of this mystery is all the more compelling. The hook is them stumbling across something far larger than themselves, and then trying to figure out what to do about it.
The Catholic Church’s troubles with sexual abuse scandals are undeniably interesting, which is proven in the success of movies like SPOTLIGHT and shows like THE KEEPERS (which the writer astutely points out in the Book Profile). There’s certainly a fanbase for this type of story, as it’s scarily close to true life.
Yes, it’s easy to see this having awards potential if adapted as a political thriller. The investigative angle helps this a good deal, as those types of features tend to get awards buzz, especially for the actors involved.
Similar Films/TV Series
SPOTLIGHT, THE POST, THE KEEPERS, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR
What’s New About the Story
Peter being a journalist will draw inevitable comparisons to SPOTLIGHT, though these stories are very different given Peter is not working with a team nor is he on assignment. There’s not a clear way to distance him more from this field, as he’s already freelance, which helps a great deal. The fact that he’s simply trying to feel closer to his deceased mentor and friend and doesn’t have any intentions of delving into a mystery is very original. The addition of Ally, a political staffer, to the story is also unique. Her Catholicism also adds a good deal to what’s on the page, as she’s tackling this from the point of view as a believer.
Both Peter and Ally are very strong leads. Peter is trusting his gut throughout; he has a nose for the story. This serves him well and it successfully brings the audience along on the ride as they also try to solve the mystery. Ally attempting to consolidate her long-held beliefs with the gritty realities of the Church’s political influence is also great. She’s put in a position where she could easily lose faith, but she never does. She knows how to separate what she was taught from the evil done by others. The choice to show Bishop Feeney as a somewhat sympathetic man unable to look at his own complicity is inspired, and it keeps him from being a stock villain.
Uniqueness of Story
This is a rare gem in the world of political thrillers. Involving the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals, as well as how deep the political and cultural connections run, really sets the stage for something fresh. There are some structural issues which could be improved, such as the ending. Right now it feels rather anticlimactic, coming on the heels of many false starts where evidence seems like a smoking gun but ultimately has no great impact. Peter and Ally are not the ones who push this along to the finish line, which makes them feel less important overall. The Church itself is also not punished. Though this is realistic, and Feeney pleading guilty is satisfying, the audience might want for more in some way. Maybe there could be some sort of hope in the end with President Elect Archer vowing to put checks on his own church.
Film - Studio, Film - Indie, TV Series - Limited Run / Mini-Series
This book presents a strong story with strong characters. After Peter begins to put together all the pieces of what Father Ingram left behind, the pace moves along quickly. The last half of the book is exciting, and overall it is, to put it frankly, a page-turner. The mystery is compelling and intriguing, and the tone is kept at just the right level to never veer too dark while dealing with horrific events. Finding a way to increase the pace in the first half of the book as well as a way to more directly involve the main characters in its ending will only make everything that’s already working shine that much more.
Following the passing of his Jesuit priest mentor, a journalist uncovers evidence that the other man was looking into a string of abuse left behind by another priest who was protected by the Catholic Church. The farther the journalist digs, he finds ties not only to the Vatican but to the president of the United States’ reelection campaign.
What We Liked
This book has such a strong story backed by an intriguing mystery. Watching Peter connect the dots that his mentor left behind is fascinating, and the audience can be swept up in his fervor. With a fast, page-turning pace, this is a narrative that would appeal to a large swath of audiences. Both Peter and Ally are strong, complex characters that are easy to relate to, and it’s a pleasure to follow their stories.
Film: There is a long history of political thriller films, and for good reason. They’re always compelling and able to garner a wide audience, and the religious element introduced here makes this even more unique. Peter and Ally get drawn farther and farther into this rabbit hole, and the audience will easily follow them. The mystery established is a topical one, and it reflects real life in a satisfying way to keep the viewer engaged. This is a film that could open the public’s eyes to very real conspiracies and backdoor deals made every day.
TV: Great television hinges entirely on its characters, and every character in the book is so realistic and well-drawn. Even the minor characters present for a single scene are still given an emotional stake and motivations within the wider story. If the characters shine this clearly on the page, they would pop even more onscreen. Beyond that, the mystery is so strong that it could sustain an entire season, and this would work well as a limited series for that reason. What’s great is that Peter could easily then move onto another mystery for a second season.
Key points: 1. Compelling mystery
2. Topical premise
3. Fast-paced story
4. Strong characters
5. Feels like a true story
Journalist PETER MERRICK is asked by his alma mater to do a retrospective about his mentor, FATHER JAMES INGRAM, after his passing. Peter’s wife EMMA tries to be there for him, but Peter has been pushing her away since an assignment months earlier in Kashmir left him with PTSD. At Ignatius, Peter stumbles across letters that were returned to Ingram, written to people in places that seem to have no connection to where Ingram worked for the church through the years. Bishop OWEN FEENEY mourns the death of Ingram as well. They grew up together and remained close friends, despite Feeney climbing the cutthroat ladder within the Catholic Church.
ALLY LARKIN recently moved to Washington, D.C. and is working on PRESIDENT WYNCOTT’s reelection campaign. Ally doesn’t have a special interest in politics, but she needed a job post-college and a cardinal she interned for recommended her to MILTON CASEY. Casey is the sharp chief in charge of the reelection effort, and he’s in contact with CARDINAL MULCAHY for research on how to get Catholic voters. Normally they’d go for conservative candidate Wyncott, but an independent candidate named ARCHER is a Catholic. Mulcahy recommends Casey work with Feeney on this.
Casey sends Ally and her coworker STEVE to Pennsylvania to do some recon with the Latinx Catholic community there. They learn that Archer’s policy doesn’t let the Church use the people’s money to pay off abuse victims while closing schools and churches in poor areas. Ally works on a proposal in answer to Archer’s, but Steve steals it and presents it as his own. Casey knows the truth, but it still infuriates Ally.
Meanwhile Peter finds a connection among the three people he has letters for — they were all involved somehow in sexual abuse cases settled out of court. He’s horrified that Ingram was involved, because the letters are all apologies to the three. Peter flies to Wisconsin to talk with KEVIN. Kevin is still traumatized, and he explains that Ingram wasn’t involved, he only reached out years later to apologize on behalf of the Church. The man who abused him was WILLIAM HARTNETT.
Peter learns that Hartnett was implicated in such cases multiple times, including in each of the three areas that the letters were addressed to. He was moved from parish to parish, and there was never any indication given to the new church about his behavior. The Church kept it quiet, including payouts to victims that sued and had to sign non-disclosure agreements. One of his postings was to take over from Ingram at a summer camp. When Ingram learned what kind of monster Hartnett was, he felt guilty. He began his own investigation into Hartnett and who transferred him around, trying to make it right. Peter follows in his footsteps.
Casey and Feeney work together on a letter from the Vatican that directs priests to not give communion to anyone who is pro-life. This includes Archer, so it’s a direct political attack, though of course Casey and Wyncott publicly have nothing to do with it. They also sneak a line into a bill that would protect the Church from having to pay victims of abuse between when the bill is approved and when it’s voted on. Ally discovers this and contacts Peter. He leaks the information, and Ally quits knowing she did the right thing. Casey takes full responsibly and resigns, knowing he’ll be provided for by Feeney, and there is no hard evidence to prove his collusion with the other man.
Peter figures out that it’s Feeney who continued to move Hartnett around from parish to parish, and in exchange he got promoted again. Peter finds letters with Feeney’s signatures proving this hidden under Ingram’s desk. Peter turns all of his evidence over to a lawyer, TED MERCIER, lobbying on behalf of the victims. The Catholic Church leaves Feeney out to dry, and he takes the fall along with jail time. Archer wins the election, booting Wyncott out. Ally begins work at a community center, with Peter’s recommendation. Peter opens up to Emma about the horrors he saw in Kashmir, and they take a vacation. It’s while abroad that Peter reads the news about Feeney pleading guilty.