Friday, September 16, 2011

Pattern of Wounds: A Roland March Mystery

             Last month, Bethany House Publishers e-mailed me a list of five soon-to-be-released suspense novels. I read the summaries: An international intelligence thriller; a cheesy-looking natural disaster page-turner; a crime novel involving supernatural foul play; a young adult fantasy thriller; and a murder mystery.

             The last piqued my interest: Pattern of Wounds by J. Mark Bertrand. Not because of its plot line, but because it was set in Houston. I doubted that the author would accurately represent the city. And so, expecting to be both entertained and disappointed by a slipshod depiction of Houston, I chose to review Bertrand's book.

             The premise of the book is interesting: HPD detective, Roland March, is put on an intriguing murder case - one that is eerily familiar to one he had solved ten years before. March is convinced there's a connection between the two, but what and how? The killer of the previous murder is in the Huntsville State Penitentiary, awaiting execution. Did March's habit of cutting corners and smudging facts result in the conviction of an innocent man? Or is there an even more dangerous, sinister individual out there, baiting March with a staged murder scene.

             Though it has an intriguing basis, the mystery is quite predictable. Like unrealistically so. I, who can very rarely solve an Agatha Christie {rarely, as in, almost never}, pinpointed the killer long before the tenured detective ever did. Let's hope that's an unrealistic portrayal of the Houston Police Department. However, the very final sentence of the book I did not foresee. It left me stunned. The mystery was wrapped up, the criminal in custody, the case closed as far as Roland March was concerned . . . but the last sentence leaves the reader with an unsatiated question and ever-growing curiosity. If I were to read the sequel, it would not be because I loved the Pattern of Wounds, but because I want to know the "why" to that clincher of a sentence.

            Classified as Christian Suspense, Pattern of Wounds is from the present-tense perspective of March, a nonbeliever. His wife, two tenants, and coworker lovingly chip away at his soul, slowly bringing him closer to realizing his need for Christ. But the evil, corruption, and depravity that March faces everyday on the job, are the barrier between him and God. There is no cliche Gospel pitch in the book, but instead a very thought-provoking discussion between March and his young tenant, Carter, on the ageless question, "Why does God allow bad things to happen, especially to innocent children and those that love Him?" This conversation introduced the book's spiritual theme: God's sovereignty, a fallen world, man's free will, and the unique environment these three agents create.

           Oh, and about the author's rendition of Houston? Let's just say, that after reading Pattern of Wounds, I know more about the city, than I thought possible. With minute detail {perhaps too much}, Bertrand describes I-45, the buildings on Alabama and Buffalo Speedway, River Oaks' mansions, the architectural design at the University of Houston Main Campus {including that particular campus fountain}, and a thousand other monuments, locations, and H-town oddities, that only city natives would be familiar with. Far from disappointing, Bertrand's representation of the Bayou City wasn't so much entertaining, as downright informative.

* I obtained a free copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. I was under no obligation to give a favorable review.

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