Thursday, July 1, 2010

Back on Murder by J. Mark Bertrand - REVIEWED

There’s only so much room in the ledger, and some entries require it all, leaving no space for smaller tragedies, even as footnotes.” (p.200)

Roland March is a police officer with a lot on his heart and mind. Following a personal tragedy of great magnitude, he has been “demoted” from homicide detective to more menial police work. When a drug goon gets murdered, along with some of his cronies, March discovers a clue that opens the door for him to return to a murder investigation. He is, as the title of J. Mark Bertrand’s book states, Back on Murder. He returns to investigative work with many constraints and amid the great doubt of his supervisors. He must prove to everyone, most of all to himself, that he is indeed ready to return to the one thing he does very, very well – catching bad guys.

Actually, March winds up kind of in the middle of two unrelated cases, and it seems that the politics in the office are acting in conjunction with his own self-doubt to take him away from investigative work altogether. His wife, Charlotte, is working through her own angst when we meet her in the story. On page 31 Bertrand describes an encounter between Mach and Charlotte: “But it’s a hissing little knife fight of a conversation, no dodging or parrying, just attack, attack, attack.” So we meet Roland March in his darkest moments, and as the story progresses he faces one obstacle after another that leads him ever farther from the truth he is so desperately seeking. Will he ever get the chance to show the world that his instincts and training are as sharp as they ever were? Will he live long enough to solve the crime? Will he ever recover from the blood on his hands as the bodies begin to add up throughout the story?

Folks, J. Mark Bertrand may be a writer with a Master of Fine Arts degree, but I think he must moonlight as a murder investigator! Back on Murder takes you deep into the inner workings of two ongoing police investigations as though you are riding along in Roland March’s hip pocket. You witness police work in all of its glory – and all of its not-so-glorious moments. At one point March thinks to himself, “There’s nothing left but the guilty knowledge of what you might have done, how brave or selfless or good you could have been, if only you’d known then what you do now.” His character is a torn, wounded man in so many areas of life that the reader can’t help but feel a great longing to see him restored to some kind of wholeness.

Back on Murder is a thoughtful, intelligently written novel that not only reflects the danger, devotion and instinct required of police officers, but it also reflects the emotional impact on both the investigative officer and their family. Roland March is not really a man of faith at the point we meet him, so the faith element is very subtle in this story. However, March must confront truth where it finds him, and by the end of the story he is giving more than casual consideration to the fact that God may indeed be involved in the events of his life. The reader also meets a host of other police officers, and by the time you reach the final pages it becomes obvious that you are destined to see some of them again.

Back on Murder is a stellar debut, and I think J. Mark Bertrand’s novels will quickly become sought- after stories as he establishes himself in this genre. He has already proved himself a successful partner in romantic suspense with the publication of Beguiled with Deanne Gist. Readers, we have much to look forward to from this new author!!

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