The Shepherd’s Calculus
by C.S. Farrelly
on Tour February 1 – March 31, 2018
When journalist Peter Merrick is asked to write a eulogy for his mentor, Jesuit priest James Ingram, his biggest concern is doing right by the man. But when his routine research reveals disturbing ties to sexual abuse and clues to a shadowy deal trading justice for power, everything he believed about his friend is called into question. With the US presidential election looming, incumbent Arthur Wyncott is quickly losing ground among religious voters. Meanwhile, Owen Feeney, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, is facing nearly a billion dollars in payments to victims of sex abuse. When Feeney hits on a solution to both men’s problems, it seems the stars have aligned. That is until Ally Larkin—Wyncott’s brilliant campaign aide—starts to piece together the shocking details. As the election draws closer and the stakes get higher, each choice becomes a calculation: Your faith, or your church? Your principles, or your candidate? The person you most respect, or the truth that could destroy their legacy?
When the line between right and wrong is blurred, how do you act, and whom do you save?
**Read my review HERE and enter the giveaway**
Published by: Cavan Bridge Press
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Number of Pages: 272
ISBN: 0998749303 (ISBN13: 9780998749303)
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗
Q&A with C.S. Farrelly
Writing and Reading:
Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?
The initial action in the plot is usually inspired by current events or actual events that have occurred in the past, but then I try to think of creative plot twists that are more elaborate (and usually more sinister) than the real life inspiration. In the case of The Shepherd’s Calculus, several elements of the plot were inspired by things that have happened in past presidential elections along with current events around foreign intervention into elections, political scandals, investigations into priest abuse cases, etc. In the case of a play I wrote, Relief, the plot was inspired by the disappearance of an American professor off the coast of Ireland in the 1930s. No one knows happened to that professor (a man named Arthur Kingsley Porter). My play is set in the 1950s and opens with the main character’s murder, so you know what happened from the start, but not why. While my characters aren’t typically based on personal experience, I’ll often use personal experiences from my travels or past jobs to help add detail to descriptions.
Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the storyline brings you?
A bit of a combination of the two. I’ve generally outlined what the main plot progressions are in advance, so I know what needs to happen and how, but the details that string those moments together are a little more open to where the characters take me as I flesh them out more. With The Shepherd’s Calculus, I wrote the first 5 chapters first, then wrote the last chapter and worked back from there because I felt I knew James Ingram and Owen Feeney the most as characters. Because of that, working back from the final moments of their friendship gave me a good roadmap.
Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?
I think there are probably traits some of the characters have that are similar to those of people I’ve met. For example, I had a professor in college who was a Jesuit priest and quite a character, so he was a bit of an inspiration for Fr. Ingram, but the full character of Fr. Ingram isn’t based on him. During my time working for different government agencies, I’ve also come across people in leadership positions who abused their power for personal gain so some of those traits in other are based on some of the unethical behavior I’ve witnessed.
Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
I’m usually at my most productive in the morning and late afternoon into the evening. I need to take a break, typically for a walk or mini-hike around lunchtime. And I must have background music playing. The film scores for The Shawshank Redemption, The Cider House Rules and Glory are what I listen to most often while I’m writing.
Tell us why we should read this book.
It’s a unique take on the political scandal trope and does so by exploring degrees of culpability. It’s not the first political thriller to explore a presidential election scandal or the first piece of fiction to look at priest abuse, but I do think it’s the first of its kind to look at these topics through a financial lens and the way the business of politics and religion are just that: businesses. At the end of the day, once any entity grows beyond a certain size, it does (and kind of has to) run itself like a business and that comes with certain moral pitfalls. So I think the novel is unique in that it explores the similarities between religious and political power while also exploring how and why faith is important to individual characters. It’s not a one-sided, angry view. Reviews have pointed out that it’s a compelling plot that doesn’t stomp on politics and religion. It shows the good, bad, and in-between of both.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Jodi Picoult’s early work is great. I really admire the way she spins current events into compelling stories with compelling characters. The Alienist by Caleb Carr remains one of the best mystery novels I’ve ever read. I also enjoy a lot of works by Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood.
What are you reading now?
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
I am. One of the themes in The Shepherd’s Calculus is a sin of omission versus commission, the difference between turning a blind eye to sin taking place or actively committing the sin. It explores the idea that you could share blame for a wrong even if you weren’t the person taking the direct action–that if you knew and didn’t act, you’re almost as much to blame. Along a similar vein, the second novel — a murder mystery set in an economically depressed town where everyone knows everyone else and everything going on — is going to explore the idea of collective responsibility. The second novel opens with the discovery of the body of a local ne’er do well in a small, damaged town and looks at why and how people might look the other way when they know something evil is going on and what their personal stake is in it. It’s a continuation of The Shepherd’s Calculus of sorts, in that Peter Merrick will make a very brief appearance as a someone the main character knows and reaches out to for advice.
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?
Ooh. This is a tough one. I’m Irish Catholic so we’re sort of culturally conditioned to not be presumptuous about success. But, I’ll take a stab:
James Ingram: Jeff Bridges
Owen Feeney: Ed Harris
Peter Ingram: Christian Bale or Sam Rockwell
Ally Larkin: Brie Larson or Saoirse Ronan
Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
Thank you for stopping by CMash Reads and spending time with us.
C.S. Farrelly was raised in Wyoming and Pennsylvania. A graduate of Fordham University (BA, English), her eclectic career has spanned a Manhattan investment bank, the NYC Department of Education and, most recently, the British Government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She was a 2015 Presidential Leadership Scholar and obtained a master’s degree from Trinity College Dublin, where she was a George J. Mitchell scholar.
She has lived in New York City, Washington, D.C., Ireland, and England. An avid hiker, she camped her way through East Africa, from Victoria Falls to Nairobi. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her family.
The Shepherd’s Calculus is her first novel.
Read an excerpt:
When Peter Merrick’s cell phone rang around ten on a Monday morning, his first instinct was to ignore it. Anyone who knew him well enough to call that number would know he had a deadline for the last of a three-part series he was working on for the Economist. It was his first foray into magazine writing in some time, and he’d made it clear to his wife, his editors, and even the family dog that he wasn’t to be disturbed until after the last piece was done and delivered.
Several months had passed since his return from an extended and harrowing assignment tracking UN peacekeeping operations on the Kashmiri border with Pakistan, where violent protests had erupted following the death of a local Hizbul Mujahideen military commander. The assignment had left him with what his wife, Emma, solemnly declared to be post-traumatic stress disorder. It was, in his opinion, a dubious diagnosis she’d made based on nothing more than an Internet search, and he felt those covering the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan deserved greater sympathy. He’d been a bystander to tragedy, he told anyone who asked, not a victim.
One morning as he’d stood drinking strong Turkish coffee on the terrace of his apartment in Jammu, he watched as a car bomb detonated in front of the school across the road. No children were killed. It was a Saturday, and teachers had gathered there to meet with members of a French NGO dedicated to training staff at schools in developing nations. The arm landed on his terrace with a loud thud before Peter realized what it was. Pinned to the shoulder of what remained of its shirt was a name tag identifying Sheeraza Akhtar, presumably one of the teachers. At the time, he marveled at his complete lack of reaction to the torn limb, at the way his response was to read the letters on the tag, grab a pen, and start writing down details of the event—a description of jewelry on the woman’s hand, the streak of half-cauterized flesh running from where it tore from the arm socket to the bottom of her palm, the way smoke curled from the remains of the school’s front entrance, and the pitiful two-ambulance response that limped its way to the scene nearly twenty minutes after the explosion.
Even now as he recalled the moment, he wouldn’t describe what he felt as horror or disgust, just a complete separation from everything around him, an encompassing numbness. His wife kept telling him he needed to talk to someone about what he was feeling. But that was just the point, he thought, even if he couldn’t say it to her. He couldn’t quite articulate what he was feeling, beyond paralysis. Making the most rudimentary decisions had been excruciating since his return. It required shaking off the dull fog he’d come to prefer, the one that rescued him from having to connect to anything. The pangs of anxiety constricting his chest as he glanced from the screen of the laptop to his jangling cell phone were the most palpable emotional response he’d had in recent memory. The interruption required a decision of some kind. He wasn’t certain he could comply.
But in keeping with the career he had chosen, curiosity got the better of him. He looked at the incoming number. The area code matched that of his hometown in central Connecticut, less than an hour from where he and Emma now lived in Tarrytown, but his parents had long since retired to South Carolina. He made his decision to answer just as the call went to voice mail, which infuriated him even more than the interruption. For Peter, missing something by mere minutes or seconds was the sign of a journalist who didn’t do his job, who failed to act in time. Worse, he’d allowed a good number of calls to go to voice mail while under his deadline, and the thought of having to sift through them all made him weary. The phone buzzed to announce a new message. He looked again from his screen to the phone, paralyzed by the uncertainty and all-consuming indecision he’d begun exhibiting upon his return from Kashmir. After several minutes of failed progress on his article, the right words refusing to come to him, he committed to the message.
He grabbed the phone and dialed, browsing online news sites as inconsequential voices droned on. His editor. His sister. His roommate from college asking if he’d heard the news and to call him back. Finally, a message from Patricia Roedlin in the Office of Public Affairs at his alma mater, Ignatius University in Greenwich, Connecticut. Father Ingram, the president of the university, had passed away unexpectedly, and the university
would be delighted if one of their most successful graduates would be willing to write a piece celebrating his life for the Hartford Courant.
The news failed to register. Again, a somewhat common experience since his return. He tapped his fingers on the desk and spotted the newspaper on the floor where Emma had slipped it under the door. In the course of their ten-year marriage, Peter had almost never closed his office door. “If I can write an article with mortar shells falling around me, I think I can handle the sound of a food processor,” he had joked. But lately that had changed, and Emma had responded without comment, politely leaving him alone when the door was shut and sliding pieces of the outside world in to him with silent cooperation. He picked up the newspaper, scanned the front page, and moved on to the local news. There it was, in a small blurb on page three. “Pedestrian Killed in Aftermath of Ice Storm.” The aging president of a local university was the victim of an accident after leaving a diner in Bronxville. His body was found near the car he’d parked on a side street. Wounds to the back of his head were consistent with a fall on the ice, and hypothermia was believed to be the cause of death.
To Peter’s eye the name of the victim, James Ingram, stuck out in bold print. An optical illusion, he knew, but it felt real. He reached for the second drawer on the right side of his desk and opened it. A pile of envelopes rested within. He rooted around and grasped one. The stamp was American but the destination was Peter’s address in Jammu. The script was at once shaky and assured, flourishes on the ending consonants with trembling hesitation in the middle. Folded linen paper fell from the opened envelope with little prompting. He scanned the contents of the letter, front and back, until his eyes landed on the closing lines.
“Well, Peter my boy, it’s time for me to close this missive. You may well be on your way to Kabul or Beirut by the time this reaches you, but I have no small belief that the comfort it is meant to bring will find its way to you regardless of borders.
You do God’s work, Peter. Remember, the point of faith isn’t to explain away all the evil in this world. It’s
meant to help you live here in spite of it.
Benedictum Nomen Iesu,
Peter dialed Patricia Roedlin’s number. She was so happy to hear from him it made him uncomfortable. “I’d be honored to write a piece,” he spoke into the phone. “He talked about you to anyone who would listen, you know,” she said. “I think he would be pleased. Really proud.” He heard her breath catch in her throat, the stifled sobs that had likely stricken her since she’d heard the news.
“It’s okay,” he found himself saying to this complete stranger, an effort to head off her tears. “I can’t imagine what I’d be doing now if it weren’t for him.” He hoped it would give her time to recover. “He was an extraordinary man and an outstanding teacher.”
Patricia’s breathing slowed as she regained control. “I hope to do him justice,” Peter finished. It was only when he hung up the phone that he noticed them, the drops of liquid that had accumulated on the desk where he’d been leaning forward as he talked. He lifted a hand to his face and felt the moisture line from his eye to his chin. After several long months at home, the tears had finally come.
Excerpt from The Shepherd’s Calculus by C.S. Farrelly. Copyright © 2017 by C.S. Farrelly. Reproduced with permission from C.S. Farrelly. All rights reserved.
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