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Notable books

Notable Books | Four new novels reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "Tilting at turbines," July 17, 2010

Back on Murder

Writers of hard-boiled crime fiction often are good at describing the mean streets and warped people who live in a fallen world. Most of them, though, don't see much hope. Their fiction operates in a post-Edenic world as though a Redeemer never came. That's why Christian fans of the genre should be excited about this series by Bertrand. His protagonist is a troubled cop dealing with loss, a fragile marriage, and a career that's headed nowhere. He's fighting bad guys in the department while trying to solve a gang-style slaying and the disappearance of a teenager. Bertrand's well-­plotted and tightly written novel offers glimmers of a world beyond the gritty Houston streets his cop must roam.

The Samaritan's Secret

It's fascinating to read a novel set in Palestine that focuses on tensions among Muslims: Fatah and Hamas, the secular and religious. This mystery series written by the former Jerusalem bureau chief for Time magazine features Omar Yussef, a late-50ish, out-of-shape history teacher from Bethlehem. He is visiting Nablus for the wedding of a young policeman when he hears about the theft of a precious artifact-a scroll belonging to the small community of Samaritans. The theft leads to murder and before long Yussef is in the middle of a race to find more than $300 million siphoned off by Yasser Arafat (never mentioned by name) from international donors. Rees immerses the reader in Palestinian history, politics, and culture.

The Lord Is My Shepherd

This dumb Holy Week mystery put out by Abingdon Press features a church secretary who discovers a dead body in the sanctuary. She screams and the rabbi from the synagogue next door dashes in to rescue her. They become a sleuthing duo, helping out a police detective who gives only cursory attention to the tedium of actual police work. The serial killer commits ever more bizarre murders as he poses, with dead bodies, scenes of the Last Supper, the crucifixion, etc. Cardboard characters, an unbelievable plot, and little theological nuance show that this series isn't in the league of clergy mysteries featuring Ralph McInerny's Father Dowling or Harry Kemelman's Rabbi Small.

The Mercy Oak

Wall's mystery series features other titles like Resurrection Road, Bishop's Reach, and Sanctuary Hill, but despite the titles the books have little to do with biblical themes. Central character Bay Tanner is a private investigator, independently wealthy, and psychologically scarred: In a previous book her husband was murdered and she was badly wounded. Now she has moved on from grieving her husband to dating/cohabiting with his brother, a sheriff, but her flaring anger distracts from the mystery, which concerns a hit-and-run death and illegal immigration. Tanner spends her time either flinging herself at the sheriff for comfort or bristling at him when he offers to help.


Fans of action adventure novels may like John Aubrey Anderson's The Cool Woman (Fidelis, 2010), a Vietnam-era novel ­featuring talented but troubled fighter pilot Bill Mann, who can't seem to escape fallout from long-buried events from his youth. Heavy drinking threatens his bright future, and when his wife leaves him he begins to descend into despair. Anderson combines dramatic flight and battle scenes with a romantic/redemptive story line. Shawn Grady's Tomorrow We Die (Bethany, 2010), written by a former fireman/EMT, combines heart-pounding action with lots of medical detail. It has Reno EMT Jonathan Trestle, recently accepted to medical school, stumble upon a couple of murders in the course of his work. He uncovers connections between the deaths and the ambulance company for which he works, and those links put his own life in jeopardy.
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