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The Messiah of Morris Avenue    by Tony Hendra order for
Messiah of Morris Avenue
by Tony Hendra
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD

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* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Investigative reporter Johnny Greco narrates this 'comic, yet deeply spiritual' satire. It takes place 'in the middle of the second decade of 'America's Millennium', or 'Christ's Millennium', a time when the latter terms are 'interchangeable', with church and state hand-in-hand. America is a 'synonymous theocracy and democracy', the Christian Right 'empowered by laws against blasphemy and witchcraft'. Though Greco's stringers still bring him stories, many newspapers have closed their doors, making it hard to sell his work, even to sleazy Internet sources.

In Ft. Oswald, Texas stands a Christian maximum security prison for sinners (thousands such facilities dot the landscape). Within the walls of each prison is a 150-foot crucifix displaying a neon sign: on one side it flashes 'Christ Died For Your Sins!', while the says, 'Now It's Your Turn!' Each penitentiary contains ten lethal-injection chambers. On the day, The Risen Lamb Correctional Facility has its first execution on a charge of treason, Johnny writes, 'The years haven't softened the image of him ... I put him on that gurney. I was his Judas.'

Johnny first encounters Jose 'Jay' Francisco Lorcan Kennedy of Mayan/Spanish and Irish descent, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, and driving a beat-up van. The Stranger has a small street following, to whom he preaches generosity, kindness, and the real words of Jesus that are not accommodated to fit a religious group's purposes. He performs miracles here and there for the poor who have no health insurance to cover medical expenses. But, it is not miracles that Jay proselytizes - it is belief itself, sans miracles.

Johnny has an enemy he wouldn't mind getting back at. Enter the Reverend James Zebediah Sabbath, leader of just about everything and anything, Spiritual Adviser to three presidents, two-star general of the U.S. Armed Forces, and closely involved with the administration's plans to attack Europe, Israel - and more. The Rev is appointed master of ceremonies for the first faith-based Academy Awards (Hollywood has been changed to Holywood - with the extra letter 'L' selling for a bundle). The Rev's causes (which keep him and his in luxury, control and power) include his successful and fully-ascending Church of the Rising Lamb.

The reader should prepare to delve into The Messiah of Morris Avenue with an objective mind, ready for light laughter and surprises, the portrayal of fanatical insanity, and multiple truisms about control of freedom of the press and of individual beliefs. The ending has the intensity of a mind-boggling, heart-stopper. One of Jay's Beatitudes, i.e. 'Be-attitudes' messages is 'Blessed are the doubters, for doubt is the path to truth.' As for Johnny Greco in Mexico, 'he wishes to feel just once more that calm and peace be cast around him like a cloak of light ... And believe. THE END AND THE BEGINNING.'

Tony Hendra writes an off-the-track (so to speak) heart-hitting novel about the Second Coming that's entertaining and genuine, with double-entendre messages. Hendra is the author of the best-selling memoir Father Joe, a former editor-in-chief of Spy, and National Lampoon and he played Ian Faith in This Is Spinal Tap. I recommend his novel for its delightful, yet serious exposure of the unfailing power of genuine faith. It's a book for all readers no matter their belief.

Listen to a podcast interview with Tony Hendra at

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