Holy sacred cows! The P.I. genre has been used like a literary shiv more than once to cut deep into the guts of an issue, but rarely has it been used with such cunning, wit and believe it or not diplomacy and fair-mindedness. In Salvation Boulevard, Larry Beinhart, the Edgar-winning author best known for American Hero (filmed as Wag the Dog) sets sight on one of the most divisive wedges of our time: faith.
Former boozer and cop turned private eye CARL VAN WAGENER is a born-again Christian, a member of the Cathedral of the Third Millennium a huge fundamentalist church in an unnamed southwestern state; a clean-living man who’s survived a gauntlet of addictions and broken marriages to finally find peace and happiness through Christ. He has a loving wife, a loving daughter and make a decent living. And he attends church every Sunday. In other words he’s a believer. But what makes him so compelling and so rare for this genre is that he’s not just a believer, but a believable believer. He’s no slack-jawed drooler or squeaky-clean Bible humper, but a fully round character whose beliefs are as human as he is.
Then Ahmad Nazami, a young Muslim student, is arrested and charged with the murder of Nathaniel MacLeod, a professor at the local university and an avowed atheist. There’s a signed confession, and things look decidedly bleak for Ahmad, until Manny Goldfarb, a high-flying Jewish defense lawyer comes riding to the rescue. And when the going gets tough, he hires his old friend Carl to look into things. It’s just another case, Carl figures. This is what he does for a living.
But in post-9/11 America, the culture wars, both real and imagined, are raging. The bonds between Church and State have never been more passionately attacked or defended. In this increasingly polarized world, Carl and Manny’s attempt to make a stand, to do the honorable and right thing and to see that justice is done, is both brave and heroic. And tragically naïve, it soon turns out.
When the lies and bodies begin to pile up, Carl must risk not just his most strongly held beliefs but his marriage and his life but possibly even his soul. The professor’s sexpot widow wants Carl to find her husband’s suspiciously missing manuscript, the Department of Homeland Security seems intent on discouraging his investigation and there are disturbing questions being raised about the case’s links to Carl’s own church, and its charismatic leader, Pastor Paul Plowright.
Salvation Boulevard should be an unholy mess, a pulpy mash-up of polemics and pontification and sex and violence, a yakky snooze fest taking potshots at easy targets. And truthfully, at least one plot twist is disappointingly predictable even if it has been ripped (and ripped and ripped) from the headlines. But for the most part, this is one inspiring ride; a muscular, provocative and defiantly intelligent thriller that wears its heart and its brain on its sleeve and manages to amp up the hard questions without sacrificing one single thrill. A great read. And timely as hell.
Larry Beinhart is a novelist, screenwriter and broadcaster. Besides private eye Tony Cassella, who's appeared in three novels so far, he's also created private eye Joe Broz, the private eye hero of American Hero, the satirical novel that became the film Wag the Dog starring Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman. He is also the author of How to Write a Mystery, a book described by James Ellroy as a "post-post-graduate course in writing great crime fiction.” He was a recipient of the Raymond Chandler-Fulbright fellowship at Oxford, and he has been awarded an Edgar, a Gold Dagger and several film festival awards. He’s also the co-host and one of the creators of In Your Face, a political talk, music and comedy show broadcast over the Dish Satellite Network by Free Speech TV.
“I write about politics because it's the greatest game around and it has the most dead bodies," he says. "Forget about Hannibal Lector. His numbers pale besides a Bush or a Bin Laden. Or even a Clinton.”
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