Welcome to the Blog Blitz for The Cuckoo Wood, the newest book by M. Sean Coleman! A book full of secrets, hidden pasts, murder (or suicide?), and mystery!
For today’s post I will tell you all about the book/author, I have an excerpt, and also a giveaway (you can win some fun prices).
DR ALEX RIPLEY silenced her ringing phone and tucked it back into her handbag. It wasn’t a number she recognised, and she was in no mood to field calls from reporters looking for a soundbite right now.
“Sorry,” she said to the make-up artist, who leaned across in front of her again.
“Don’t worry, love,” he said. “Better it happens in here than live on air!”
“True,” she smiled.
She was nervous enough about appearing live on national television, without embarrassing herself by forgetting to turn off her phone. This wasn’t her first live appearance by any stretch, but
she got butterflies every time.
A renowned skeptic, specialising in investigating purported miracles and divine interventions from the logical perspective of science and reason, you could rely on Dr Alex Ripley to be a rational voice when questions of faith overlapped with media sensationalism.
She was about to appear on a regular Sunday morning debate show where, on this occasion, the panel discussion was about faith healing. It was the kind of programme she couldn’t stand watching.
She hated these divisive shows, with their angry audiences shouting their opinions over each other, and guest speakers brought in to provoke the worst reactions in the crowd. Sensationalist crap. But she had a new book about faith healing to promote, so she’d jumped at the chance to quash a few myths and misconceptions live on air.
In a debate on this subject, she knew she could hold her own, no matter what they threw at her. Her books always ruffled quite a few feathers, and this one would be no different. People often got angry when their beliefs got challenged, and that, after all, was Dr Alex Ripley’s speciality. She could even treat this as audience research.
The show’s host had greeted her as she’d arrived and made it obvious that he was not expecting her to pull any punches. He was an intelligent-enough man in private, but he was one of those hosts who loved to provoke his guests. He made bold, sweeping statements, deliberately twisted answers, and provoked conflict at every turn. That’s what made good telly.
He had gleefully informed her that one of the other guest speakers this morning was the Reverend Bobby Swales—one of the many self-proclaimed healers that she had lambasted in the opening chapters of her book. She wasn’t worried about meeting him again—the encounter would be more uncomfortable for him than for her.
She’d seen right through him, and would have no trouble outwitting him in this debate. Sure, he could quote scripture to suit his ends and he was a charismatic performer, but he hadn’t fooled Ripley for a moment. He was a cynical, self-serving man who preyed on the weak and desperate, and gave them false hope, simply to line his own pockets.
Ripley wasn’t anti-faith or religion. Nor did she have anything against those who held particular views. In fact, it was quite the opposite: she dreamed of finding something that could satisfy her own desire to believe in a higher power. What Alex Ripley railed against was the use of religion as a shield for cruel, vicious, selfish and, above all, stupid deeds. Regardless of their
position or standing, if someone had set out to deceive in the name of any god, Alex Ripley made it her mission to expose them.
She was often employed as a professional devil’s advocate, using rationality and science to argue against claims of miracles. Over the years, parties on both sides of the argument had hired her, and she was one of the few experts in the field recognised for having no agenda, other than to get to the truth. It was whispered that if Dr Alex Ripley were ever to say that you had a miracle, then you had a miracle. As yet, she had found nothing to convince her. But it wasn’t for lack of effort.
To date, she had published three books on different aspects of the miracle question, and each of them had caused enough controversy to make her a well-known name in the right circles. Each investigation had ended with the same conclusion: there was no miracle. She had always found a rational explanation for the healings, the weeping statues, the divine apparitions, the stigmata, the visions and even the voices.
It wasn’t always the case that those proclaiming miracles had set out to intentionally mislead. Sometimes, their steadfast faith blinded them to the truth. Other times, there was neither a rational answer nor evidence of divine intervention.
Nothing was ever black and white. Regardless of how carefully she phrased her findings, Ripley knew she was either accusing someone of lying or being hopelessly naïve. She had learned to deal with the inevitable anger and criticism aimed her way.
Over the years, she’d been accused of profiteering, hypocrisy, devil worship, and of using her own lack of faith to extort corroboration from confused and disappointed believers. She brushed off most reproaches, but sometimes she felt as though she was the only sane and rational person in a world of deluded fanatics.
These days, she only worked on more complex or higher profile cases. No matter the scale or significance, she found the same underlying principle in all of them: people just wanted to believe.
They liked to think they had been chosen to receive a special gift or that they finally had proof there was more to life than just the here and now.
Her latest book was another tough exposé. It had taken two years to research, and had made her several enemies along the way, from those at the top of the Catholic Church to the disgruntled charlatans who realised that their cash cow had just been publicly slaughtered. The Reverend Bobby Swales fell into the latter category, which explained why he was on this show today.
Doubtless, he had brought some of his faithful flock along to corroborate his wild claims.
Ripley hadn’t set out to do an exposé of faith healing. It was exactly the kind of phenomenon she usually avoided, because it was impossible to ever say whether a miracle had occurred. There were always too many other factors to consider.
During her research, she had even locked horns with the Vatican over healing miracles attributed to Pope John Paul II, which had led to an on-going fight about the politics of canonisation.
There were pending libel cases from three different healers, two of which she was confident she would win.
She’d been punched in the face and now carried a neat little scar over her right eye after being assaulted by one particularly irate healer, the irony of which had not passed her by. She’d had death threats, been propositioned with bribes and even offered her own slot on a weekday television show. All before the book had hit the shelves.
“They’re ready for you in the studio, Dr Ripley,” a young production runner called through the door.
The make-up artist fluffed her cheek with a powder brush and nodded.
“All good,” he said, beaming. “Knock ‘em dead.”
Ripley followed the runner down the corridor and into the wings of the studio. The buzz of last-minute preparations was electric, with people in headsets dashing about, either being or looking busy, producers snarling urgent instructions at anyone in sight and the last members of the live audience being ushered into their seats.
The red light flicked on and everyone fell silent. She could hear the host reading from the autocue.
“This morning we’ll be talking about miraculous healing. We’re joined in the audience by The Miracle Detective herself, Dr Alex Ripley, whose latest book, A Leap of Faith, attacks everyone from TV evangelists to the Vatican itself for what she will tell us are false claims of divine healing. Dr Ripley will lock horns with the Reverend Bobby Swales, whose ‘healing spectaculars’ draw crowds in their thousands from around the world. We’ll also be talking to people who have been healed, and meet a man who says a fraudulent faith healer killed his wife. We’ll be fielding all the tough questions from our live audience here in the studio and, of course, from you at home via all the usual channels. Join us live after the break for The Righteous Truth.”
Ripley had grown used to the nickname, The Miracle Detective, though it still rankled. It wasn’t accurate, and it made light of her work. But it gave her a popular identity that people could hang on to and, in the broadest possible sense, it explained what she did.
It had started as an insult in a scathing review of her first book. Since then others had picked it up as a convenient shorthand to introduce her. It had stuck for enough years now that she’d come to expect it.
The red light went off, and the flurry of activity kicked up around her again. The runner led her onto the studio floor and directed her to her seat. She noticed that they had positioned Reverend Swales opposite her on the other half of the semi-circle. He sat in the front row, a squat little toad, with his fidgeting hands clasped in his lap. His lip curled when he saw Ripley take her seat. She smiled at him as benignly as she could muster. This would be fun.