PANAMA CITY — Local author Michael Lister’s latest novel, “Blood Sacrifice,” is a startling return to his mystery series featuring John Jordan, a chaplain at a state prison in the piney woods of northwest Florida.
It’s startling in that it takes Jordan out of the prison and into a different sort of danger — after a young woman dies during an exorcism. The investigation has Jordan asking himself questions about his own religious beliefs. Do demons exist and can they possess people? Or is there a psychological explanation?
“Think about it,” Lister said. “Exorcism is more readily available today in the United States than at any other time in history. And though Jesus regularly performed exorcisms and the Roman Catholic Church has always conceded the possibility of demonic possession, it’s clear that the practice of exorcism in contemporary American culture has been more deeply influenced by the entertainment industry than anything else.”
He points out that exorcism became all the rage in the 1970s, following the release of the book and movie, “The Exorcist.”
“The influence of a popular culture phenomenon like ‘The Exorcist’ can hardly be exaggerated,” Lister said. “It gets in our collective DNA and permeates every single cell.”
Following a particularly brutal and costly case, Jordan goes to St. Ann’s Abbey, a secluded retreat center on the shore of the (fictional) coastal town of Bridgeport in Northwest Florida. Temporarily leaving behind the demanding duties of his job and the homicide investigations he is irresistibly drawn to, John comes to St. Ann’s in search of serenity.
While undergoing counseling with Sister Abigail because of his depression and self-destructive behavior, John resists the urge to investigate when the body of a young boy staying at St. Ann’s is discovered in the Gulf. Sister Abigail convinces him it no longer is just his pride or career or even his marriage, but his soul he is trying to save.
Taking Jordan into a new area didn’t seem that strange to Lister when he sat down to write this latest thriller.
“It seems organic to me,” he said. “With all that John has been through during the first four books, he needed to get away, take stock, examine his life, and heal. The setting of the retreat and John undergoing counseling also gave me the opportunity to delve deeper into his make-up. … It also seemed the perfect place to set this particular story.”
Lister has drawn from his own experience in previous novels in the series. In the early 1990s, he became the youngest chaplain within the Florida Department of Corrections, and for almost a decade, he served as a contract, staff, then senior chaplain at three facilities in the Panhandle.
He has less experience with the supernatural, he said, but he conceded that the influence of “The Exorcist” and more recent films such as “Paranormal Activity” and others of that genre led to the new novel.
“I didn’t see ‘The Exorcist’ when it first came out. I was 5 at the time,” he said. “Actually, I didn’t see it until some 30 years after its release while well into my so-called adulthood, but I did grow up in its aftermath, in the era it had such a big impact on.”
“Blood Sacrifice” is available for purchase in hardcover, paperback, ebook and audio on Amazon.com, MichaelLister.com and at Books By The Sea in downtown Panama City. Lister will be signing from 1-3 p.m. Black Friday at Books By The Sea.
That day also will mark his annual Holiday Book Giveaway. Anyone who comes to the signing event will receive a free book from his previous works.
He also will have a signing event from 5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Purple Grape in Panama City; and another from 1 to 3 p.m. Dec. 15 at Downtown Books in Apalachicola.