Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ken Kuhlken

Ken Kuhlken's stories have appeared in Esquire and dozens of other magazines and anthologies, been honorably mentioned in Best American Short Stories, and earned a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.

His novels include Midheaven, chosen as finalist for the Ernest Hemingway Award for best first novel, The Loud Adios (Private Eye Writers of America/St. Martin’s Press Best First PI Novel, 1989), The Venus Deal and The Angel Gang, all Tom Hickey mysteries, The Do-Re-Mi, a Tom and Clifford Hickey mystery honored as January Magazine best book of 2006 and as a finalist for the 2006 Shamus Award, and The Vagabond Virgins featuring Alvaro Hickey.

A couple of days ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
The past couple months, my reading has been limited to research of one kind and another. The novel I’m working on takes the detective I write about back to his first investigation. In the mid-1920s, Tom Hickey’s a young man, when he learns that an old friend (and surrogate father) has been killed. The murder looks racially inspired and may be connected somehow to the Angelus Temple, whose founder, Aimee Semple McPherson, is currently on trial. She’s accused of fraudulently claiming she was kidnapped.

Sister Aimee’s autobiography, This Is That, is fascinating but tough to read unless one happens to be a follower of hers who wants to absorb her every word. It’s long and appears unedited. But it exposes the thoughts and obsessions of a remarkable character whose charisma, brilliance, creativity and personal power single-handedly launched a world-wide revival.

The book about her I can recommend for any reader is Daniel Mark Epstein’s Sister Aimee, which records the preacher’s life in compelling drama from beginning to end. As a Canadian country girl, she wanders into a church, falls for the preacher and marries him. They go to China as missionaries, and no sooner does Aimee bear a daughter, than her husband Robert Semple dies, leaving her penniless on the other side of the world. She makes her way home, marries a solid fellow named McPherson, and tries for a few years to act domesticated. But sickness and other troubles convince her God wants her out saving souls. She sets out on the road, accompanied by her mother and the two youngsters, and preaches in tents and halls to black, white and in between. After some years, she decides her children need a home. They settle in Los Angeles. By now, in the years following WW I, she’s drawing crowds of many thousands, all over the country and overseas, and regularly presiding over apparent miracles. In every city, dozens or hundreds of people report healings during or following her prayers and laying on of hands. She uses the offerings to build her majestic Angelus Temple, across the street from Echo Park in L.A. There she preaches to a full house three times a day, seven days a week. And she becomes the first woman to license and operate a radio station, over which she preaches most every night. Then, in 1926, she disappears. That’s all I’ll give away.

Mr. Epstein is a fine writer who gives the preacher’s story in a balanced and mostly objective fashion that ought to fascinate anyone, whether a believer or a skeptic. I’ve always been a reader of biographies, but I can't think of one that more thoroughly captivated me.
Visit Ken Kuhlken's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: The Do-Re-Mi.

--Marshal Zeringue