Genre

Thriller, Young Adult, General Fiction

Audience

15 & Up

Author’s Worldview

Catholic

Year Published

2022

Themes

mass shooter, free will, temptation, moral theology, suffering, theology of the cross

 

Reviewed by

Courtney Guest Kim

In Shooting At Heaven’s Gate, Kaye Park Hinckley explores a topic that we urgently need to face, but which the public square has failed miserably to address: the trajectory of a man who suddenly decides to take a gun and kill a slew of people who may have no clear connection to him at all. This novel is a spiritual thriller in that we know very quickly who the perpetrator will no doubt be. The mystery here is the mystery of iniquity, and Hinckley sets out, through several interwoven story lines, to expose the small steps by which an innocuous boy might turn into a monstrous man.

 The lists of book discussion questions and quotes at the end make clear that the intent of this novel is to illustrate an explicitly Catholic understanding of free will, temptation and Theology of the Cross (“Suffering plus Faith equals Salvation.”). There is also a second storyline, whose intersection with the first kept me guessing till the end. This sub-plot describes the opposite series of choices and demonstrates that a materialistic paradigm, in which people are merely the product of their environments, cannot be true. Hinckley carefully details opposing trajectories—toward goodness and towards evil—and shows that suffering in itself cannot be the cause of evil, because in suffering, people can still choose for what is right and good. In fact, some take on more than their share of trouble, out of love.

Hinckley’s prose is reliably mellifluous, but in this story she endows with greatest eloquence the preacher-grandfather of the perpetrator. These two characters are clearly in the line of Hazel Motes and his grandfather from Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. We see the forceful preacher through the distorted memories of his devolving grandson. We realize that the grandfather attempted to inculcate righteousness in his progeny. We also find out that he gave a handgun to a little boy and pushed him in front of a couple of wild hogs, with orders to shoot. In a make-or-break paradigm, this boy evidently became one of the broken ones. Hinckley succeeds in showing that evil is not so much a thing in itself as the absence of things that should be there but are not. The ambiguous relationship between the perpetrator and his preacher grandfather was to me the most fascinating dynamic of the novel: the hazy background of a disintegrating human being.

However, younger readers will, I think, delight in the glaringly malevolent tempter (aptly nicknamed Mal!) who is foregrounded as the immediate mentor towards evil of the weak anti-hero. I plan to give this book to my ninth grader, because its careful parsing of the interior process by which a person can be led into evil—or choose goodness—is exactly the sort of resource that adolescents today so badly need. They are coming of age in a horribly evacuated culture. It is a daunting challenge to figure out how to live the Christian faith in this context, constantly made aware of grotesquely violent acts by public figures who seem determined never to examine the human heart. Kaye Park Hinckley has done us all a great service with this attempt to shine some light into a very dark and frighteningly powerful spiritual vacuum.

Hidden: Don’t Fear the Unseen by Verity Lucia

Clare Thomson wasn’t sure she believed in angels and demons – until she could see them.

Please Don’t Feed the Dinosaurs by Corinna Turner

A series of dino adventures that has been doing better what the mainstream Jurassic Park series only recently attempted.

Finnian and the Seven Mountains (Vol. 1) by Philip Koslowski, Michael Lavoy, and Jim Fern

Join Finnian as his quest for a legendary sword takes him to the monks of Skellig Michael, a real life inspiration for the Jedi temple.

The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch by T.M. Gaouette

A foster kid learns that sometimes the scariest part of life is accepting love.

Love, Treachery, and Other Terrors by Katharine Campbell

This quirky, fairytale fantasy is a fun and amusing read with a serious moral backbone.

The Silence of Bones by June Hur

A young slave girl in ancient Korea investigates a murder & meets real life Korean Catholic saints

The Bishop of 12th Avenue by Ray Lucit

A street kid gets ordained a Bishop in a post apocalyptic world. Talk about a shakeup in the priesthood.

The Table by Dennis Lambert

A table built by the grandfather of Jesus Christ survives the darkest moment in history to bring peace to a widowed musician

Secrets: The Truth Will Out By Verity Lucia

Two little lines are about to change Elise’s perfect teen world.

Shadowmancer by G.P. Taylor

A dark fantasy along the lines of Revelation itself.

Island of Miracles by Amy Schisler

When she finds out her husband had a whole other set of wife and kids Kate starts over in a small beach town.

A Pius Man by Declan Finn

A hilarious espionage action adventure in the Vatican. Also a halberd fight scene. Nuff Said.

The River of Life by Diana González Tabbaa

The death of little Anthony’s father shakes his faith until a heaven-sent friend helps him find his way back to God.

Infernal Affairs by Declan Finn

St. Tommy finally comes face-to-face with the warlock that has been behind the events of the previous two books while fighting off hordes of everything from gangsters to vampires.

The Dunes by A.R.K. Watson

“The Dunes” raises questions that are relevant in any marriage: not just for the creepy, otherworldly couple who venture onto a lonely island to set up camp near prehistoric sand dunes for the last time.

The Singer not the Song by Audrey Erskine Lindop (AKA The Bandit and the Priest)

A priest and a bandit king face off for the fate of a small Mexican town in this thrilling western adventure.

Markmaker by Mary Jessica Woods

Aboard a world-ship, in an alien society, one artist’s quest for truth will turn his whole society upside down.

Comet Dust by C.D. Verhoff

A Catholic end-of days inspired by the private revelations of the saints.

Lying Awake by Mark Salzman

A cloistered nun confronts her faith when she realizes that the private revelations she has been given might be the product of epilepsy.

The Academy Saga: Book 1 By C.J. Daly  

A thrilling, yet clean, high school romance.