In an era when the perception of faith has been tainted and polluted by fundamentalists of all types, from zealots who fly airplanes into buildings to droolers who see murdering doctors and politicians as their stairway to heaven, and the media is crowded with hucksters who preach divisiveness and hatred for their own personal and/or political gain, it would take a special kind of writer, one of extreme skill and moral clarity to even risk introducing questions of faith into the secular world of crime fiction; a place where good and evil abound but where religion, save for an occasional motive for murder, rarely males an appearance.
Well, I'm here to tell you that Jon L. Breen is that author.
Maybe it was all those years of writing reviews for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, but after years of trolling through the good, the bad and the ugly, the esteemed critic of crime has cut loose with a simply amazing novel, Eye of God (2006), that casts an unflinching eye not marely at religion, but at faith, and what it takes to believe. It's the story of a born-again gumshoe and his doubting Thomas of a partner.
NORM CARPENTER is an Orange County private investigator going through a crisis of faith; trying to get right with God. But when he informs his less-than-devout partner, AL HASP, that's he's been born-again and intends to leave the agency, Al's knocked for a loop. Less-than-pleased, he counters by asking Norm to take one last case -- and it's one that hits really close to home.
Mega-successful, charismatic televangelist Vincent Majors is a big deal in Southern California, running both a highly profitable ministry in Costa Mesa and a Christian college, but he's made his share of enemies as well. Including, apparently, somebody within his own church, who has been passing along potentially embarrassing information about his personal and professional life to the press and to a bitter professor and outspoken atheist. Majors hires Hasp and Carpenter to find out who the mole is, and Al thinks Norm is the perfect candidate to go undercover within the church.
But Norm, already reeling from his own doubts about his faith, his career and his shaky marriage to a woman whose faith is rock-solid, isn't quite so sure.
Meanwhile the ever skeptical Al, convinced that Majors is a phony and that if Norm gets to see the hypocrisy of these people up close he'll "see the light," works another side of the case: looking into the murder of Majors' son-in-law, a professional basketball coach.
It's a great idea, and a timely one: a couple of private eyes with decidedly different ideas on faith working together for the common good.
Breen never really takes a side -- unless giving someone a fair shake is considered taking a side -- and so this is neither a knee jerk attack on nor a blind thumbs-up to faith. Instead, it's a mature and refreshing examination of who we are and what we believe, and how we can live together regardless of our differences, our prejudices and our flaws.
The book may lack the explosive ending that would make this a stone-cold classic, and it may have never reached the audience it deserved, but in its quiet, contemplative way, it's a compelling and rewarding read, well worth looking for.
The long-time reviewer for EQMM, Jon L. Breen has won Edgars, Anthonys, a Macavity, an American Mystery Award, and an American Crime Writers League Award for his critical and nonfiction work, and he has written and/or edited hundreds of other works. A retired librarian and English professor, he lives in Fountain Valley, California, and still contributes to various mystery magazines.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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