Book Review: Back On Murder

Written by J. Mark Bertrand
Reviewed by Nike Chillemi –

This is the Christian crime fiction novel I’ve been waiting for. It’s intelligent and well written. Author J. Mark Bertrand knows his police procedure and has got cop culture down.

Main character detective Roland March wants back on murder. He’s kind of flushed his career due a dark depression he’s been wallowing in which has led to his apathy about the job. As result he’s been assigned a string of undesirable cases, none of them homicide. Even his old partner, once a close friend, wants nothing to do with him. Then he notices a detail at a murder scene the other cops have missed and that lands him squarely on the case. This is his last chance to redeem himself and resuscitate his failed career.

Roland’s instincts tell him this homicide at a drug house, missing it’s female victim’s body, is linked to a high profile missing person’s case, where the other young female victim is a church going good girl. Sometimes it seems as if he’s trying to make the pieces fit. Sometimes he might be hoping they fit to prove a theory of the case that will allow him to exact revenge upon his old nemesis on the police force.

I didn’t always like protagonist Roland March. He can be petty, mean, dense, and not above begging. Near the beginning of the story, something snaps inside him and he manhandles a very drunk woman trying to get into her car outside a bar he frequents. He takes her keys away and might’ve even saved her life, but his behavior was over-the-top. Later, it’s revealed what personal demons drove him to conduct himself in so vile a manner.

The novel is definitely edgy. The main character is not saved and doesn’t get saved by the end of the book. One of the murders has highly sexual overtones. One of the characters may or may not have date raped a girl and Roland does little to nothing about it. There’s tons of violence. More than a few scenes take place in a cop bar. The hero thinks about sex with his wife more in sexual terms than in a romantic manner…or perhaps it’s in a habitual way. The autopsy scene is graphic. All this adds up to edgy Christian fiction. But it’s a fantastic ride. A detective story reader’s dream comes true.

I’m glad this is going to be a series. I don’t want to see Roland March go away any time soon. I’ll put this book up against any secular crime fiction best seller. Though writing style and hero personality is different, the book is comparable to Michael Connelly’s long running Harry Bosch series.

What makes Roland compelling is his cop’s sense of righting a wrong on behalf of the victim. He particularly wants justice for the nameless, faceless girl whose body is missing, but who so obviously died in that drug house. While Roland obviously has a gazillion negatives to his personality, he can also be noble, brave, loyal, and doggedly persistent.

Roland March is not a spiritual man, yet he’s the perfect one, to objectively show how the secular world views the church. He’s saddled with a new female partner, a Christian, who’s easy on the eyes and he’s ogled her, only to be slapped down. He later comes to respect her as a woman, cop, and valued partner. Through his eyes, we meet the young missing person victim’s mother, a church worker who indeed lives her faith. We get to see her at first through his jaded eyes and then slowly see she’s the real deal. We marvel at her compassion, just as he does.

I highly recommend this book to crime fiction fanatics of every stripe, or anyone looking for a terrific police procedural/thriller. This is an intelligent, complex, gritty mystery and the writing is excellent. It’s a real page turner.

About Nike Chillemi

Nike Chillemi has been called a crime fictionista due to her passion for crime fiction. She is a member of ACFW and the Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers on Ning. She was an Inspy Awards 2010 and a Carol Awards 2011 judge, She is the founding board member of the Grace Awards, a reader's choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction.

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