Front cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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Part One The Earthly Paradise

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Chapter 1

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pp. 3-18

Brother Flavian was not entirely certain what brought him, a Trappist monk soon to celebrate his seventeenth year in the monastery, to be standing in the Miracle Inn with a draft beer in one hand and a pool cue in the other. That afternoon he had set off to deliver the remnants of last year’s fruitcakes to the diocesan soup kitchen in the city, where they would...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 19-32

On her first afternoon in her assigned post, delivered to her new office and home by the county judge executive, Dr. Chatterjee had to acknowledge that hers was not an auspicious beginning. The judge executive (so very American his title, with its seamless blend of government corruption and corporate inefficiency) had dropped her here, mumbled something...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 33-41

Flavian sat in the monastery minivan, studying the doctor’s office. When he last visited this building it had been a gas station with a garage door that rolled up to reveal a hydraulic lift for raising cars and trucks. Now he tried imagining that bay furnished with medical equipment. What came to mind instead was the thought of corpulent Brother Bede, being elevated...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 42-48

The priest and the policeman were fishing. They had become friends because, as Father Poppelreiter pointed out, they shared a mutual interest in the law, whether that of God, in his case, or of man, in the case of Officer Smith. They became fishing buddies because they each took Mondays off. Father Poppelreiter recovered from a day of saying mass in five different...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 49-50

The Smiths lived in a brick shoebox of a house across the highway from Dr. Chatterjee’s office. Two small double windows, their curtains always drawn, framed a white door. Mangy grass struggled to get a purchase in the yard, rocky and uneven from the digging of the foundation. A yellowing boxwood hedge grew under one of the windows. In the center of the yard, a...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 51-55

The county attorney, Harry Vetch, had a smooth oval face with pink cheeks and eyes that changed color depending on the time of day—in full sun they were palely and innocently blue but in shadow or at night they were some complex shifting color closer to green. In bright light they twinkled—the result of overactive tear ducts—but they gave him...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 56-64

Judge Drummond was a Presbyterian running a Catholic county and it was not an easy job. On bright and sunny days (today was not one of them) he thought the combination felicitous. He kept the Catholics in line with his Presbyterian rigor and upright tone, while their inclination to place having a good time above all other considerations—well, he was sure...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 65-71

On certain days in early summer some last gasp of winter sneaked down from the vast north we call Canada and the air was clear and dry. At night the stars were close enough to pluck from their blueblack velvet case while on earth every hollow and ravine pulsed with the yellow lamps of an infinitude of fireflies. During the day the town was a palette of every shade...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 72-93

Sunday afternoons were an agony of solitude, a long stretch of time with a million things to do and no energy to do them. Meena found herself on the road, a small woman in a large car driving to the monastery, walking to the statues to watch the light that changed so rapidly at this latitude—even now, with the sun slowing to the peak of its solstice...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 94-98

The abbot had requested that Flavian take notes during his meeting with Harry Vetch, who was brief and to the point. Now, some moments after Vetch’s departure, Flavian sat in silence, waiting for the abbot to resume dictating a letter to corporate milk producers that had been the morning’s first business. But the abbot had swiveled in his chair to study the rippling...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 99-105

This is the time of year in this part of the world when the glorious days of early summer lengthen and no one can entertain the notion that summer will ever end, that anyone or anything will ever die. Every living thing reaches to the sun, which is nearing its solstice but has not yet reached its brutal midsummer strength. The days are long and warm but the earth has....

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Chapter 12

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pp. 106-114

Before taking vows one of the monks had practiced architecture in the cities of the plains and in designing the chapter room had transplanted the long flat lines of the prairie to these lumpy forested hills. Flavian wondered if the contradiction between the room’s flat lines and its undulant setting contributed to the contentious tone of the community discussions. The monks sat on long thin benches of oak beveled and polished...

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Chapter 13

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pp. 115-134

For several days the weather had been sultry and the close air hummed with electricity. Meena walked the few hundred yards to the Knights of Columbus Hall to attend a party that had been organized to raise funds for equipment for her office and to formally introduce her to the town. As she approached the KC Hall the couples standing in the doorway fell silent and slipped away— “another drink,” “little girls’ room.” Meena...

Part Two The Disobedient Member

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Chapter 14

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pp. 137-147

Justice, in Johnny Faye’s case, took the form of the state’s oldest courthouse, a small brick temple built by men whose architectural talents ran to churches but who were acutely aware of the need for a clear distinction between church and state. Nature had taught them proportion, they had heard reports of Jefferson’s Monticello, and they had on all sides a forest of chestnut...

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Chapter 15

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pp. 148-152

Now Meena went to the blind many evenings. She sat on the fallen pine and scooted sideways until her feet dangled over the little hollow that had once writhed with snakes and remained there until she could barely distinguish the silhouette of the trees from the blue-black star-spangled sky. Then she drove back to her office in the old Electra. One especially bright and perfect...

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Chapter 16

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pp. 153-158

The clouds departed and the skies became hot and blue. The grass crackled underfoot and the river shrank. Attendance at the monastery services skyrocketed. Most of the farmers and many of the monks subscribed to an ancient understanding of the rituals: We pray to You; You give us rain. The abbot did not like to...

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Chapter 17

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pp. 159-168

Rosalee Smith’s apron reached to Meena’s knees. “You don’t work with flour without an apron,” she said, tying it behind Meena’s back. Matthew Mark sat at the table nearby. “That boy does love to be in the kitchen but at home I caint let him help, my husband won’t have no part of it.” By now Matthew Mark had redeemed Meena’s promise of a story several times over, but on this particular evening mother and son arrived together, Rosalee lugging a...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 169-173

Meena was following Johnny Faye from the statues to the Rock House. “Careful of the poison ivy.” He pointed with his stick. “I can knock down spider webs and scare away snakes but you got to watch out for poison ivy on your own.” “As a child I played in jungles inhabited by leopards and crocodiles. I am capable of watching out for myself, thank you.” “Suit yourself.” They continued down....

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Chapter 19

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pp. 174-181

Dr. Chatterjee was making her first rounds of the monastery infirmary— the abbot had appointed her visiting physician. She accompanied Flavian as he listened, cajoled, and ministered to his aged brothers. She busied herself elsewhere when he sneaked a beer to Brother Zaccheus from a stash concealed in the medications refrigerator but insisted that he take one away...

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Chapter 20

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pp. 182-188

Harry Vetch sat nursing his whiskey on the ratty couch that Maria had covered with some kind of polyester throw that would give him a prickly rash if he weren’t careful. “We need to talk, Maria, and not about the weather.” She took up her wine and rolled her eyes. “That’s easy for you to say. You work in an air-conditioned office. But then so do I, as of today.” “I have central at home, but my courthouse...

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Chapter 21

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pp. 189-194

“You haven’t shown me your homework.” Johnny Faye was peering into the crowns of the surrounding trees. “Caint decide if that’s a vireo or a Tennessee warbler. A little early for a warbler to be coming back through but maybe this one wants to beat the crowd.” “You were supposed to write letters until you had them memorized.” “Is that a fact. A warbler would be, I don’t know. More lively, kind of.” “How can you learn to write if you don’t...

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Chapter 22

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pp. 195-209

Harry Vetch arrived as the second hand crossed the hour of their date. He drove up in the dark blue Mustang and leapt out—concealed behind a curtain, Meena was watching. He wore jeans and sneakers and an open-collared polo shirt. For the occasion she had purchased a beige pantsuit with a long-sleeved white blouse. “Hey, who knew such a lovely...

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Chapter 23

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pp. 210-219

“Listen.” Meena tilted her head. A sweet bobbling, pure and cool— spring water. “Carolina wren.” “When are you going to tell how the birds got their names?” “Are you asking?” “Yes, I am asking. Please.” “Well. Since you say please. Not long after settlers arrived in these parts the birds pretty much disappeared. I know all this because of a accident of the blood. My mamma is the youngest child of the oldest child of the youngest...

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Chapter 24

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pp. 220-227

An indifferent Monday. What concatenation of chance and choice, destiny and free will, had brought Flavian to this place, where his morning’s task was to enter addresses and telephone numbers from cheese and fruitcake orders into the newly acquired computer, pride of Brother Cassian? This was the work of the Lord? Why was he here? Why had he become a monk and, more to the point, why had he stayed? The abbot entered, all hustle and bustle...

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Chapter 25

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pp. 228-232

Doctor Chatterjee had trained herself in the discipline of skeptical inquiry, or so she told herself when she scrutinized a patient’s records or test results. And now her skepticism was unrelenting. What was she doing, taking up with this character? What future could he hold for her? She had accepted assignment to this town with every intention of completing...

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Chapter 26

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pp. 233-240

Meena knelt on the floor of Rosalee’s kitchen next to Matthew Mark, who lay with an array of colored pencils in front of a square of poster board. The aged nun teaching summer school had charged her students with illustrating some principle from their catechism, and after much deliberation...

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Chapter 27

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pp. 241-259

Flavian stood at the lip of the bluff above the oxbow bend, hands on his hips. These days the cedar thicket all but parted in welcome— he’d make his mourning dove’s call and stroll right through. This particular Sunday he clutched in his right hand the Department of Justice press release. Below...

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Chapter 28

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pp. 260-261

The doctor pondered the evidence: Spots of blood in her underwear, three days running. Her period had never been dependable— sometimes she missed it altogether, other times it came as a painful flood. Medical school had taught her to understand this irregularity as one of many pieces of evidence...

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Chapter 29

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pp. 262-267

“I have come by some information that I am certain you will find of great interest.” Harry Vetch was facing Maria Goretti across the glassy expanse of his desk. He had been tapping away at his computer keyboard—he kept his fingers on the keys. She wore a sober dark dress and held a canvas tote bag perched on her knees—she might have been the opening speaker in a high...

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Chapter 30

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pp. 268-270

And so she was pregnant. With child. She could not be pregnant. She must not be pregnant. I don’t report out a positive unless I’m sure and I haven’t been wrong yet. There must be some mistake. There was no mistake. The test confirmed what she had already known. She would get an abortion. Someone from her medical retraining could provide a reference. Phoning someone...

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Chapter 31

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pp. 271-276

Officer Smith stood before Harry Vetch, smoking a cigarette. The sun was a fist on their bare heads. At the far end of Ridgeview Pointe a lone backhoe roared and farted and puttered about. With each pass at the dry earth a cloud of red dust rose and drifted the length of the project to settle on their shoulders. “Do you have any idea,” Vetch...

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Chapter 32

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pp. 277-295

September. A lazy Sunday afternoon, the planet turning its other cheek to the sun. Leaves were still green but the forest had exhausted itself and with every shortening day a little more of its life drained back into the earth’s dark heart. Here and there amid the dusty green a staghorn sumac showed forth autumn’s bright scarlet. The showiest flowers...

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Chapter 33

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pp. 296-314

On this particular September day Brother José, impulsive as always, decided that the cow barn’s infestation of rats demanded action and that firearms were superior to poison or traps, either of which might endanger Origen the cat. But José had never fired a gun and so he called in Flavian...

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Afterword

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pp. 315-316

Those familiar with central Kentucky may recognize in this book certain features of its geography, history, and culture, but these characters and their stories are fabrications of my imagination. This is a work of fiction inspired by real-life events, researched in the course of writing a feature...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 317-318

The following individuals have lent their intelligence and support to the writing of this novel. Most of what is good I owe to them; the faults I claim as my own. Dr. June McDaniel, Dr. Gerry Forbes, Bharati Mukherjee, Clark Blaise, Dr. Darril Hudson, Sandip Roy, my kind and endlessly hospitable hosts in Calcutta (especially Manas Ray, Sharmila Ray, Tanusree Shankar...

Kentucky Voices

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pp. 319-322