By Matt Gabrielson

Arizona Daily Wildcat

There is an argument that the realm of science is no place for faith.

However,science professor and author Martin J. Hewlett, challenges such a notion in his first novel, Sangre De Cristo.

Faith is one theme of the book, said Hewlett, an UA associate professor of microbiology. He admits that while metaphysical questions have little place in scientific methodology, they are still necessary for a holistic understanding of the cosmos.

The novel's plot unfolds when an ancient shroud, much like the famous shroud of Turin, is discovered in a French Monastery and brought to the University of Arizona for dating.

The main character, Joshua Francis, a molecular biology professor at the university (parallel?), is thrust into the center of what becomes a conflict between issues of pragmatism and faith, when he succeeds at isolating and cloning DNA from the shroud.

The cloth is dated at around 30 A.D., and some believe it to be the burial sheet used to cover Christ in the tomb.

Political issues surrounding the shroud run amok and thicken at both the university and governmental levels. Public sentiment opposes further analysis of the wrapping for holy or personal reasons, and even the Vatican gets involved, wanting full rights to the shroud and its immediate return to Europe.

All this climaxes in New Mexico as the main character, Josh, comes to the conclusion that it doesn't matter whether the object is real or not. The story ends with just the right percentage of tragedy and sorrow as well as a lesson or two..

As a first attempt at long fiction, the novel is a demonstration that Hewlett can really write. Expositions are clean, holding reader interest throughout. Dialogue is realistic, though sometimes overplayed.

Perhaps Hewlett's most successful device is character. He has a gift, a skill, at portraying his subjects as believable, almost real personalities.

Which is admirable considering he has had little formal training in creative writing.

For years, the scientist/author has written poetry and short-form fiction and published scientific articles for journals.

"But, the novel is the hardest thing I've ever done," he said in a 45 minute interview with the Wildcat.

"Before I started this project, I had to close my lab to concentrate on the writing and my teaching."

After a heart-attack in 1988, Hewlett began to reexamine his values. While in recovery, personal introspection revealed his energies should be directed toward writing.

So he wrote, and for the last two years he has been working to finish this first novel.

Upon completion of the initial manuscript, he solicited the help of professional editors and went so far as to self-publish the final book form with the help of his wife, Gail, under the name Spirit Rider Press.

His future plans are to continue teaching at the UA and participating on campus as a faculty fellow both are high priorities. Short of that, he already has ideas for two other novels, one of which he will start this summer.

Martin J. Hewlett's novel Sangre De Cristo is available in soft cover at bookstores around the city, or by mail order from Spirit Rider Press, 2920 E. Mabel St. 85716-3848. The cost is $13.95. Professor Hewlett will sign books tomorrow at the UA campus bookstore from 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Read Next Article