By D.H. Robbins
“The Reverend “ is a suspense / crime novel set in New York City in 1963 — 1964. It centers around Reverend Thomas Barragan-Deavers, who carries out his murders under the name of “Chamelea”.
By his own admission, Reverend Barragan-Deavers is not a murderer. He prefers to think of himself as a “liberator of lost souls.” Raised as a girl in the 1920s by an overbearing mother who had wished for a daughter, so his private sin is to dress as a woman he has named “Camille”. He spends many of his nights in an opulent gay night club in Greenwich Village within his circle of cross-dressed friends.
On the nights he is not there he is garbed as a Reverend, prowling for his mainly female victims. He first gains their trust as a man of the cloth to break them down. He then hypnotizes them—with the aid of hallucinations—into accepting the kind of absolution he has to offer, then takes their lives. As they die in his arms, he senses their departing souls sanctify his hunger to be a woman. His personal god and the stature of his presumed calling have ordained these murderous rituals as rites. With each of his liberations, the Reverend believes he has purified his feminine alter-ego he calls “Chamelea”.
Reverend Barragan-Deavers is bi-sexual, but had been married to a woman he later murdered—his first “conquest”. He has an estranged daughter, Regina, whose childhood had been compromised by him. Now at 21, she has found her independence, she has taken a job at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Here is where her Reverend father has tracked her down. He disguises himself as Regina’s departed mother and confronts her, much to her horror. She decides she must finally take her stand against him.
Detective Ray Nealy and Marty Cohanson, a New York City cop, track Chamelea (the Reverend) through each of his murders. But Reverend Barragan-Deavers remains one step ahead, until, finally, he takes one more life and slips up. This one hits close to home, where, for Ray, it becomes personal.
“The Reverend” is an intricately crafted story with a rich cast of supporting characters. It is spiced with the colorful, sardonic wit of Reverend Barragan’s acquaintances at The Glitz and Glitter Club, and the put-on-naïveté of the regulars at The Back Page, a watering hole for the cops and the New York Knickerbocker editorial crew.
Its woman characters, especially Deborah Dantana, the Reverend’s heterosexual love interest; Regina's aunt, Hellie Laine; Regina (at times); and Nealy's secretary-turned-fiancé, Francesca, are strongly developed. The men of "Chamelea,” including the faux intellectual trans-genders, are fragile and supportive of one another. Even Thomas' inner God possesses a peculiar, sarcastic dry humor of his own.