Tag Archives: J. Mark Bertrand

Review: Pattern of Wounds, by J. Mark Bertrand

Pattern of Wounds, by J. Mark Bertrand (Bethany House, 2011)

Detective Roland March is called to a Houston murder scene that’s eerily similar to his first big case, which was sensationalized in a true crime book. That killer’s in prison, but could someone have used the photos from the book as a pattern? Even worse, is the wrong man behind bars?

March follows up on every angle, but he also trusts his instincts. In his own words:

“The thing about instinct is, you follow without knowing where it’ll take you. You can’t explain why, and along the way nothing adds up, making you look like a fool. But working homicide, looking like a fool goes with the territory. That’s the job: getting it wrong until you finally get it right.” (p. 58-59)

As the story progresses, there’s a lot of getting it wrong before March finally gets it right. He blames others for allowing their biases to blind them to what he sees, but events make him question his own blind spots.

This book grabbed me on page one and kept me reading. Author J. Mark Bertrand has a tight, satisfying delivery and uses some strong visual imagery. Here’s an example where a character’s been asked a question: “He puts the photo down and leans back, checking the ceiling like his memories are kept up there.” (p. 312)

The story is told in the first person, which works well for a detective novel, and in the present tense, which doesn’t work so well for me except in chick lit. It’s probably intended to convey immediacy, but I find it a bit disconcerting.

Pattern of Wounds is put out by a Christian publisher, but it should please any lover of detective fiction. March himself has seen too much, lost too much, to find comfort in the faith in which he was raised. His wife, Charlotte, attends church without him, and he feels like she’s growing apart from him.

This is the second Roland March mystery (the first was Back on Murder) and while you don’t have to read them in order it’s a good idea. March is a richly complex character who changes over the course of the stories. I found it easy to care about him and Charlotte and their friends. I certainly hope there’ll be a book 3.

You can read the opening chapter of Pattern of Wounds on the Bethany House site and read an interview with J. Mark Bertrand as well. For something a little different, you can read a fictional interview with the Brad Templeton, the character who wrote the true crime book based on March’s famous case, The Kingwood Killing.

For a limited time, book 1, Back on Murder, is available for free as an eBook through Christian Book Distributors and in Kindle, Nook and Kobo formats.

You can learn more about J. Mark Bertrand and his books at his website and at his blog, Crime Genre.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: Back on Murder, by J. Mark Bertrand

Back on Murder: A Roland March Mystery, by J. Mark Bertrand (Bethany House, 2010)

Roland March was a good detective, but now he’s on the way out. Something happened—a bad case, a personal tragedy, perhaps both—and he stopped trying.

His chief reluctantly assigns him to a gangland murder: one last chance, and one March discovers he desperately wants to take.

His superiors want him gone. He’s told to drop his brilliant hunch. Everything he tries only makes things worse. And it’s September, time for his wife’s annual depression.

Back on Murder is a fantastic read. Author J. Mark Bertrand nails the detective’s voice in this first-person novel. His descriptions are fresh, vivid, unique.

This is some of what March sees as he studies the first crime scene:

“The couch cushions blossom white with gunshots, exposed foam bursting from the wounds…. Evidence markers, chalk lines. imposing scientific regularity over the shell casings, the dropped firearms, the fallen bodies.” (page 12)

Here, March is arguing with his wife, Charlotte:

“We’re not yelling at each other. Not quite. But it’s a hissing little knife fight of a conversation, no dodging or parrying, just attack, attack, attack.” (page 42)

First person works for me as a mystery reader—whatever the sleuth or detective learns, I learn as well. Sometimes I can even piece a few clues together before he or she does, although not so much in this case.

But the novel is written in the present tense, a major turn-off for me. This is a fast-paced story, and once I was into it, my brain converted the action descriptions to past tense (that’s what it thinks is normal after 40+ years of reading). Then it would trip on a present-tense verb and throw me off the story’s rollercoaster. Not fun.

In the midst of assimilating the whole present-tense-fast-action thing, on page one I found a description of the murder victim: unique and well-written, but referring to his “wife-beater”. While I usually feel the political-correctness enforcers go overboard, this one should maybe have been stopped.

I was surprised a) that it was there, and b) that all readers would be expected to know the words mean a sleeveless, scooped-neck undershirt. If you didn’t know, I doubt you’d figure it out from context. You’d just be thinking about the dead guy having beaten his wife. This dead guy may not even have had a wife, so that’s a bad distraction from what he did have: enemies.

It’s hard for crime novels to have happy endings when they’re about death. March’s case resolves in a mostly satisfactory manner from his perspective. For readers, it a good ending. Our questions have been answered, some justice has been dealt, and there’s an open-ended issue that promises us future plots. Professionally, things are looking up for March. On a personal level, he and Charlotte are making progress.

March is a non-Christian protagonist for both Christian and general market police procedural lovers. Readers wanting a conversion scene for March need to look elsewhere. It wouldn’t be a realistic step for him at this point, but perhaps in a future novel. I found his non-faith gave him the opportunity to let Christians see how others may perceive us. He isn’t intentionally nasty, but he doesn’t get it. We all know people like that, and we need to understand them and to help them understand us.

J. Mark Bertrand is the co-author (with Deeanne Gist) of the romantic suspense, Beguiled. Back on Murder is so tightly-written that I can’t believe it’s his first solo novel.

Take a few minutes to read an excerpt from Back on Murder.  And there’s an interesting Q&A with J. Mark Bertrand that promises:

“With the fallout from Back on Murder, and some new secrets coming to light, March’s next case might be the most disturbing he’s ever faced. The next book in the Roland March series, Pattern of Wounds, is schedule for release in Summer 2011.” [Read the full Q&A here.]

J. Mark Bertrand’s website is Back on Murder. Why write the novel in first-person, present-tense, with a non-Christian protagonist who’s somewhat of an anti-hero? In a guest-blogging post at best-selling suspense novelist Brandilyn Collins’ Forensics and Faith blog, he claims, “The Story Made Me Do It”.

I like Roland March, and I’m glad he’s back on murder. Present-tense narrative or no, I’ll be waiting to read Pattern of Wounds.

[Review source: Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications Inc. Available now at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]