The life and death of an American Catholic in Africa provides the subject for this month’s Notable Narrative, “The Collar and the Gun.” The three-part serial draws out narrative details that make Kaiser’s missionary lifestyle come alive, from the brown soap the priest used to patch cracks in his truck’s engine to the Coke bottle he used to carry holy water.

Christopher Goffard takes on the challenge of sorting through conflicting factual evidence, as well as the quirks and contradictions of an individual life, and comes to a place without clear answers. Was Kaiser’s death murder or suicide? Were his fears well-founded given the environment of political corruption and violence, or were they the delusions of a mentally ill man?

Given the length of Goffard’s serial—nearly 11,000 words in The Los Angeles Times—we wished the author had more fully sketched his implicit villain, Daniel Arap Moi, whom Kaiser describes first as “a great Christian prince” then later as responsible for torture and murder. A piece this long might also have placed the Catholic Church in the historical landscape of Kenya.

But Goffard’s eloquence as a narrator shows in his complicated treatment of Kaiser’s shotgun, which, like the priest’s body, served him so effectively for so long, but may have been the means to his end.

Read “The Collar and the Gun,” by Christopher Goffard

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