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by Sam Bourne
HarperCollins, March 2006
448 pages
ISBN: 0007203284

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It seems a bit unfair to compare every book with religious codes at the centre to The D*****i C**e, but then again there do seem to be a lot of writers jumping on the bandwagon. The consolation here is the THE RIGHTEOUS MEN is a promising debut novel.

Will Monroe is between nations -- a UK-born journalist with an English mother and American father, now trying ot make his way on the New York Times. The death of a pimp in the city earns him a front page story when he discovers the man had some hidden secrets. But when he then covers the death of a religious nutter in Montana, things start to gather pace. Before long he's hurtled into the world of Hassidic Jews as his beloved wife Beth is kidnapped.

I should say at the outset that I dislike intensely religion in crime fiction (or any other fiction, for that matter). However, Bourne did a good job in keeping me hooked on this book which is a neat intellectual puzzle. The mobile phone messages get a bit tiresome though -- I soon started to feel 'yes, yes, thank you, you've made your point.'

And I could have lived without the sudden rose-tinted specs take on the Hassidic community at one point -- particularly unquestioning, given the restrictions placed on women in that community, and the position of the fascinating character TC in the book.

In fact, TC, Will's ex-girlfriend, is a much more rounded figure than that of Beth, who is seriously under-drawn and only there, it seems, as a paragon to place on a pedestal.

I enjoyed the newspaper scenes where Will and the second division and disgraced staff have desks well-hidden in a corner and away from the action. And there's a great character in the form of a very spooky newspaper editor who appears at odd moments like the Marie Celeste. There's also a little twist at the end, after the bloody-thirsty denouement that I guarantee you won't see coming.

So, a reasonable start for Bourne -- a pen name for British newspaper journalist Jonathan Freedland -- in his career as a novelist. Whether he wants to revisit the tenacious character of Will remains to be seen -- a follow-up might iron out some of the first novel flaws.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, March 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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