CFBA Blog Tour – Back on Murder


The current CFBA Blog Tour feature is J. Mark Bertrand‘s Back on Murder, a Roland March Mystery (Bethany House Publishers). I’ve known Mark as an online colleague for some time and have learned a lot from him, so I was happy to join in a tour for his first solo novel. You may recall, he debuted as the co-author with Deeanne Gist of a romantic suspense entitled Beguiled (a novel I also reviewed).

The Story.
Roland March is a troubled, and apparently, in trouble, homicide detective in Houston. He’s been shipped, metaphorically, from the penthouse to the outhouse—given jobs he sees as the bottom of the barrel. He wants desperately to get back into real detective work.

Except, he can’t seem to treat his superiors as … superior. When he gets a chance to work on a case again, under an up-and-coming younger detective, he chafes under the restraint. He has his own hunches he wants to check out, which makes him inattentive to the jobs he’s given.

Even as March is taken off the case and loaned out to another agency, then yanked back to homicide to work the dreaded cop-suicide detail, he continues to pursue his ideas, believing that his career hangs on his solving the intertwining crimes.

There’s more. A grudge match with another detective, personal failings, and heartbreak. As the story unfolds, so does the character—readers learn what caused March’s career to tank and what’s behind his personal demons.

But of course, I’m not going to tell you any of that. “Twould the story spoil. 😉

Strengths.
The thing that impressed me the most was how integrated Christianity is in this story. Not all the characters are Christians, mind you (I read that recently, in a blog comment at another site—that in Christian fiction all the characters are Christians 😛 ). But since one of the crimes around which the story centers involves a Christian, of necessity Detective March must interview a youth pastor among others.

As it turns out, one of his partners is also a Christian and so is … well, you get the idea. Sprinkled throughout his co-workers and acquaintances, March encounters a variety of Christians, none who try to convert him. They simply act the way Christians in real life act.

They struggle with guilt, make good choices, make brave decisions, make mistakes, show weaknesses, live out their faith, and more.

Besides the faith aspect, Mark has done an excellent job portraying characters. Roland March, his wife, Detective Cavallo, the youth pastor Carter Robb, all of them spring to life. They are believable, interesting, three dimensional, well motivated. In short, they make the book.

But what about the plot, you may ask. I mean, this is a mystery, isn’t it? Yeeess, sort of. It’s not your typical mystery, but I’ll touch on that in a bit. The thing is, the plot keeps moving forward and readers learn more about March’s inner world even as they learn about the complex crimes he’s working to solve. It’s not high-action, page-turning, heart-pounding drama. It’s more real than that. An engaging story, peopled with realistic characters, and placed in a true-to-life setting.

Weaknesses.
Recently Mark wrote a guest post at Forensics and Faith called “First Person, Present Tense (And Other Risks)” in which he said, “The story made me do it.” Yes, Back on Murder is written in first person, present tense. And I have it listed under “weaknesses.”

It’s a personal thing. I don’t like first person very much, though I can adjust. I don’t like present tense hardly at all, but I have liked some books that utilize it.

Both? Such a book requires a strong character voice, and I suggest one that is “agreeable.” To be honest, early in the story, I found Roland March’s strong, distinctive voice to grate on me because it continued page after page. He wasn’t whiny, but he was cynical and negative and depressed and jaded and a bit arrogant. He wore on me.

Thankfully as he became more engaged with the case, he began to … not change as much as shift. I began to understand where his attitude came from, too, so I grew more sympathetic. Let’s say, I’m glad I persevered through the earlier parts.

The other thing I’m considering as a weakness is that Back on Murder isn’t really a mystery. It’s a puzzle. This is not your Hercule Poirot type mystery with a cast of suspects and a litany of clues. Rather this is a twisty, interwoven series of crimes that relate to one another and March is trying to connect the dots.

It’s interesting, but I don’t see it as the kind of mystery that allows a reader to “play along.” Readers learn things as March learns things, so we’re sort of in it together, but not in the same way as the Agatha Christie mysteries. My taste runs toward those.

Recommendation.
I know how Mark prefers reviews of Christian books that are more than promotional pieces. The thing is, Back on Murder is worth promoting. It’s a well-written story that integrates Christianity in the same way that Christians are, or should be, integrated in society. The book is entertaining even as it is insightful. I highly recommend Back on Murder to anyone who enjoys a good crime story, who wants to read a well-crafted novel, or who wants to read a book with intriguing characters.

Published in: on July 13, 2010 at 12:22 pm  Comments Off on CFBA Blog Tour – Back on Murder  
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