Growing up, Michael Emmett suffered from the impact of both sexual abuse and having a father who was a career criminal.
He was drawn into a chaotic life of crime, violence and drug use. He was eventually arrested and sentenced for 12 years for drug smuggling.
In prison, through the chaplaincy, he began a journey to the Christian faith.
He connected with Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) and became a key person in the growth of the Alpha course in prisons.
Emmett’s personal charm and eventful life should be the basis for an inspiring book. Sadly though Sins of Fathers is a disappointing read.
One issue is the clunky writing style and the continual use of very short sentences which gives little flow to the narrative.
Linked to this, the rapid introduction and exit of key characters gives a sense of superficiality to the story. Also, some of the language grates, e.g. the word ‘naughty’ is frequently used to describe everything from stealing, to affairs and to a murder he witnesses.
These stylistic and editorial problems are where the ghost writer, Harriet Compston, could have intervened more to help Emmett produce a more readable book.
Emmett’s encounter with God was undoubtedly profound and since he has helped many others find faith. And it is good that he does not hide how his problems continued alongside his high-profile involvement with HTB.
But ultimately the book focuses too much on the glamorous chaos of Emmett’s life: criminal activity, police chases, flash cars, lavish holidays, brushes with celebrities and his sexual misadventures.
The Epilogue is the only part of the book which approaches any depth of reflection. It means that rather than come across as transformative and inspiring, the story reads as shallow and sentimental.
There is a tsunami of gushy comments about his children and grandchildren, but little insight given to the real impact of his behaviour on those closest to him.
It made me wonder how others would tell the story.
This review was originally published in Christianity Magazine, April 2021