One of the keys to a long career in law enforcement is learning how to tell police psychologists what they need to hear without sounding deceptive. The only alternative is good mental health, which to me has always seemed too unrealistic a goal.
That’s Houston Police Detective Roland March, hero of J. Mark Bertrand’s crime novel Pattern of Wounds, a sequel to Back On Murder. I liked the first book very much, and I think I liked this one even more. Bertrand is doing almost exactly the thing I’ve tried to do (with far less success) in my own fantasy novels—to portray the real world through eyes of faith, giving both believers and unbelievers a fair chance to make their cases.
Roland March is a Houston cop, at once admired and disliked in his department because of his erratic career history. Successful enough as a crime solver to have been the subject of two true crime novels, he went through a slump period (following the death of his daughter in a car accident with a drunk driver) during which he seemed to be on the way out. In this book he tells us something we didn’t know before about that period—he was cutting corners because he didn’t trust the justice system. Always staying within the limits of strict legality (or so he believed), he nevertheless bent the law in order to insure “true justice” as he saw it.
He seems to be climbing out of his pit now. His wife, deeply depressed after the accident, is making emotional progress, helped especially by her participation in a church. Roland, who harbors a deep grudge against God originally stemming from childhood experiences, is ambivalent about this, and so their relationship is both better and worse.
The story begins with Roland on the scene of a murder. A young woman has been strangled and stabbed to death in a swimming pool behind a house in a wealthy neighborhood. Roland is struck by the resemblance of the murder scene to a photograph in the first book written about him. He is convinced that the murderer has taken a personal interest in his own career.
A sheriff’s deputy, though, comes up with a different theory. He thinks this woman is the victim of a previously unrecognized serial killer, and links the crime to a series of murders across the state. Roland thinks he’s connecting dots at random, but the brass take the theory seriously. Then Roland discovers that the very author who’s written two books about him now thinks that he’s corrupt, and has falsified evidence. Roland’s anger at the betrayal is not reduced by the fact that he knows that—in minor ways—the accusation is true.
Running as a subplot through the whole story is Roland’s friendly religious dispute with his wife and the young Christian couple who rent their garage apartment. He experiences no great conversion experience, but the grace of God is working in his heart… gradually.
Bertrand is in the process of producing a detective series that does all I could ask of Christian literature. Good writing, strong characters, a compelling (though complicated) plot, realism, and no preaching. Highly recommended, for older teens and up.