Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book Review - Pattern Of Wounds

Sophmore slump?

Look somewhere else.

J. Mark Bertrand hit the CBA scene big-time with last year's Back On Murder. I reviewed it here, and it ended up as one of my favorite books of the year.
His latest book, Pattern Of Wounds, looks to continue the...pattern.

Houston homicide detective Roland March is still battling. A year ago he was on the verge of being booted out of his department. He solved a high-profile case and solidified his position, but he isn't out of the woods yet. His lieutenant is riding him, and his captain is angling for a promotion, leaving March on an island.

When he responds to a woman's body found patially floating in a pool, he sees more than any other investigator. He sees a parallel to a murder he worked 10 years ago, one that was popularized in a true crime book.

He works the leads in the case, but promising trails grow cold. Another detective suggests a serial killer link, one that includes his old case - meaning the wrong person could be in jail.

March presses ahead, determined to prove the doubters wrong, but he may be alienating allies in the process. Even as the killer presses a little too close to home, March struggles to see the pattern of wounds in time.
I said last year that Bertrand was pushing some boundaries of Christian fiction. I hold to that statement this year, but I want to clarify it: he is pushing the borders of quality, not just borders of content.

I don't read a lot of this genre, the hard-boiled detective mystery. However, if I knew it was all like Bertrand's work, I would have to change. He has elevated his craft since the first book. The book is told in the first person view of March. Bertrand keeps March as a character we empathize with, even as he has demons and conflict, and a few views or habits we may not like. He's real, he has the feel of a real homicide detective. It isn't sugar-coated, but it is gritty without being gratuitous.

The plot moves along nicely, not a burning pace, but evenly stretched between action, investigation, and introspection. He paints wonderful detail to place us in March's eyes. I underlined a line mentioning "a puff of [shaving cream] foam clinging to the cap." Such a small detail, but it helped me see the eagle eye March has as a detective.

The book is deeper than a crime drama. The title is a powerful metaphor for the case March is working on and the battles in his life. He's wounded, and in showing us his dirty laundry, it allows for exploration of why evil exists, the power of faith, and the struggle of life.

There was one complaint - a thread that was developed for a time early on seemed to disappear in the end. I like books that don't tie every thread into a tidy little bow, but this wasn't loose, it seemed lost. It wasn't a big deal - I didn't realize until after finishing, but I wanted to temper my otherwise high enthusiasm for this book.

Bottom line: if I wrote crime fiction, I would study Mark Bertrand's novels, because the craft and enjoyment springing from that is so good. If you like this genre at all, you should really check this book out. Even if it isn't your main reading flavor, it is worth reading.
Legal mumbo-jumbo: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for promotion via the CFBA Tour, but with no promise of a good review. My thoughts are my own (anyone else wouldn't want them anyway!)

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