Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back On Murder

Have you ever been so engrossed in a novel that you started to think that the story was actually happening in real life? That happened to me on multiple occasions while reading J. Mark Bertrand’s first installment of Roland March mysteries, Back On Murder. My wife and I would be having dinner and I’d say something like, “They still haven’t found Hannah yet, have they?” That would get a blank stare followed by me trying to act like I was only joking. One time while watching a cable news channel, I actually thought the next story was going to be an update about the case. And, truth be told, I had a dream that included some of the book’s characters.

I was beginning to think that, perhaps, I thought this book was too good. Do I have to get out more, I wondered? In fact, when I showed the book to someone and mentioned how great it was, a glazed look came over his eyes. He glanced at the Christian imprint. The face said it all: it can’t be that good. But then, slowly, other glowing reviews started being published. John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture, says that it is a “promising debut” and he is “ready for the next book.” In a review for Comment, Richard Doster writes, “In this first installment of a promising new series, Bertrand has given readers an intriguing plot, delightful prose, engaging dialog, and a story that's well worth reading.”

So, if they can do it, I can do it. Let the gushing begin. Back On Murder is engaging, suspenseful, thoughtful, and entertaining. It’s everything crime fiction should be. And here’s Bertrand’s real gift, and it is a gift, to be sure. There is not one f-bomb in the whole book, and yet the dialogue is realistic. There is not a single description of a sexual encounter and yet the book is not without sex. Like a good comedian who is funny without swearing, Bertrand reveals that it is possible to write a good story without being crude. Most importantly, the book is refreshingly honest about the human condition. The protagonist Roland March is complex, often discussing deeper motives behind his actions and being frustrated by his limitations. And, I hope I don’t need a “spoiler alert” for this one, the ending is satisfying without having everything neatly tied up.

Here’s the one word I would use to describe Back On Murder: flawless. Now I know that’s a strong statement, and certainly every book has flaws. But I really couldn’t ask for more from a novel. The good news is, there’s more to come! I know what I will be reading at the beach next summer.

Click here to read a Bookshelf Interview with Bertrand about his book Rethinking Worldview

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