Too nice for vice?

Interview | Hard-boiled mystery writer Andrew Klavan on becoming a Christian and "seeing the world more clearly as it is"

Issue: "Barrier riffs," Feb. 10, 2007

Andrew Klavan is an unusual combination: He writes detective novels filled with depictions of human depravity, and he's now a Christian. It shouldn't be an unusual combination, because an understanding of man's sinfulness, along with a glimpse of God's holiness, often makes us realize our desperate need for Christ. And yet Christian fiction has a reputation for being too nice to take on vice.

Klavan has written 10 novels, two of which have been made into movies: True Crime, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, and Don't Say a Word, with Michael Douglas. Klavan, a former reporter who has lived on the East Coast and in London but now lives in California, has twice won an Edgar (named after Edgar Allen Poe) for top mystery writing. On his website, andrewklavan.com, he wrote last year, "I became a Christian after some 35 years of thinking and reading everything I could get my hands on from Augustine to Zoroaster."

WORLD: In your latest novel, Damnation Street (2006), you have a sympathetic young Christian saying about her atheistic dad, "The fact that all of these deep convictions of his turned out to be just false made me wonder about the other thing, the God thing. Well, it's a long story." Could you tell our readers something about your starting point and your long path to acceptance of the God thing?

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KLAVAN: Well, the thing is, some guys are born where they want to be—Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, whatever. My life has been more like one of those Outward Bound programs where they drop you far from home and you have to make your way back with a piece of string and a matchbook. I was born and raised a Jew and came up in that wonderful secular intellectual tradition that teaches you to analyze everything. God kept coming into my life and I kept disproving Him—I was very good at it!

Fortunately, I could also disprove the foundations of my disproof. Eventually I saw that the pillars of the secular consensus—scientism, materialism, rationalism—were all made of sand. Whereas the deeper I went into the experience of God, the more I found, you know, life in abundance.

WORLD: Life in abundance—and you wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2004 that "what tipped the scales" for Christianity in your own thinking "was that the presumption of atheism proceeds without respect for the human experience of God's presence." What did you mean by that?

KLAVAN: Right, I think I was writing about scientific materialism. And I love science. It's our great tool for understanding the material world. I think some Christians make a mistake by placing God in opposition to science—it's like pitting Him against His own creation. But by the same token, the greatness of science—the purity of its materialism—is also its limitation. Science assumes that the experience of God is an illusion of the brain, because the physical world is literally all it can see—that's what science is for. But to think that spiritual experience is a mere outgrowth of the body is like thinking an idea is a mere outgrowth of the words that express it. The assumption is patently unjustified.

WORLD: As you moved toward Christianity it seems that you were developing characters—Lonnie Blake and Howard Roth in Hunting Down Amanda (1999) and Peter Blue in Man and Wife (2001)—who sacrifice themselves to save others. Did your creation of Christ figures help you to embrace Christ—and how did your movement toward Christianity affect the nature of your heroes?

KLAVAN: The simple answer to the first question is: yeah, absolutely. I only had to read my own stories to see my view of life was increasingly a Christian one. But here's the funny part. Becoming a Christian actually made me less likely to use Christian symbolism and structures in my work because now I see Christ's presence underlying all of life—I don't have to place Him there artistically. Baptism made me more of a realist, more willing to let each character go his own way and tell his own story as he would. I'm a novelist, remember, not a preacher. I trust reality to express Christ's presence, because I think that's what it actually does.

WORLD: Hunting Down Amanda also has Edmund Winter, who shows his nature in this scene: "His tongue snaked over the top of her ear. . . . 'I'm going to teach you who's the master of creation.'" Then in Dynamite Road (2003) you introduce the devilish Shadowman, with his ability to remain unnoticed and his heart set on pure evil. How did your growing Christian belief affect the development of these satanic characters?


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