Yesterday I posted the basic info about Back on Murder for the CFBA tour, but I wanted to write a little more about the book. I finished it a couple of weeks ago and found it to be one of the best mysteries I’ve read in a long time. It’s not perfect, but Mark Bertrand has done a wonderful job of creating a rich, complex character in a fully realized setting. Roland March is a mess, which I know bothers some people, but I like him. (I’ve enjoyed Michael Connelly’s books featuring Harry Bosch, a complex mess himself.) March is his own worst enemy at times, and a little irritating, but he has a dogged determination to solve the web of crime he’s confronted with and I like that about him.
That dogged determination doesn’t apply just to crime solving — early in the book I wondered if March’s marriage could possibly survive, but he sticks with it. Mark captured the ways a couple can wound each other so well, but he also captured the underlying love and commitment to see each other through the bad times. It’s one of the best depictions of a fragile marriage I’ve read. Relationships matter to me and I enjoy reading books where relationships matter, so I appreciate that the relationships in Back on Murder are an important part of the story.
Another strong point is the depiction of Christians. Roland March is not a Christian, and in fact finds much evangelical culture to be confusing. He’s not sure how to deal with the Christians he’s working with, and yet he responds to their kindness and integrity. They’re not all perfect, which is also refreshing. There are no conversion scenes but there is hope.
One aspect of the book that worked less well for me, at least part of the time, was the first-person present tense. I’m fine with first person but sometimes I found all the present tense a little jarring. Still, I was forced to see things through Roland March’s eyes, as he saw them, and that was an interesting experience. I’m not sure I could pull it off, but Mark kept the voice consistent throughout. I also thought the story felt a little rushed at the end, though sometimes events all come together at once.
I appreciated what seemed to be a realistic picture of police life and I appreciated that, though the crimes were solved, it was bittersweet. Some crimes just almost never have a happy resolution and that plays out realistically in the book.
I can heartily recommend Back on Murder and I’m really looking forward to the next installment in the Roland March series next summer, The Pattern of Wounds.