Christian crime fiction comes of age.
Jul 29, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 43 • By JON L. BREEN
While the three novels are of nearly equal merit, Nothing to Hide (2012) may be the best of the lot. A headless corpse has been identified as gun-dealer Brandon Ford, who is extensively documented but doesn’t really exist, leaving March in a unique situation: investigating the murder of the cover identity of an FBI informant. Occasional flashbacks to March’s experiences as a military policeman at Fort Benning and his encounter with a CIA agent known as Magnum, told in past tense, could stand alone as a powerful short story. Spy novel and police procedural meet in a complex but completely comprehensible plot of double-dealing. At one point, March acquires a civilian sidekick, a conspiracy theorist who is a confirmed atheist. Far from producing a Christian equivalent of those courtroom mysteries in which the defense has all the good lines and the prosecution has nothing, Bertrand gives his atheist and agnostic characters (sometimes including March himself) pretty persuasive arguments. The books deliver a sincere and admirably understated spiritual message, but they are far from dramatized Sunday school lessons.
J. Mark Bertrand deserves a wider readership than a religious publisher affords. Many writers are able to carry readers along by employing nice phrases and descriptive passages, bits of humor, character involvement, and curiosity about how it will all turn out. But few have Bertrand’s relentless narrative power. His website states he will write more March cases if he can find a new publisher, suggesting the three-book original contract was a commercial (surely not spiritual) failure for Bethany House. Perhaps the ideal new publisher would be a major mainstream house, one that won’t ask Bertrand to compromise his beliefs but can get behind this extraordinary writer and gain him the wide audience he deserves.
Jon L. Breen is the author, most recently, of Probable Claus.
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