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by Larry Beinhart
Nation Books, September 2008
352 pages
ISBN: 1568584113

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Manny Goldfarb, a hugely successful lawyer in a sunbelt city, is representing a young Iranian-born student accused of killing his philosophy professor, motivated by religious fervour. But there are anomalies in the case. The student, Ahmad Nazami, is an unlikely religious fanatic. Indeed, he is looked on with suspicion by some of his more orthodox fellow Muslims for being too sceptical. But he has confessed, though it seems likely that the confession has been coerced in ways reminiscent of the practices in some of America‛s more secret holding cells.

Before Goldfarb can try the case in court, he is gunned down and Carl Vanderveer, his investigator, is left trying to decide what to do about Ahmad. Carl is a born-again Christian, a member of Pastor Paul Plowright‛s mega-church, the Cathedral of the Third Millenium, and devoted to his (third) wife and daughter. All of the above want him to forget about Ahmad and Carl wishes he could, but his loyalty to Mannie and his innate sense of justice keep getting in the way.

The strains on Carl are enormous. He believes with all his heart that Pastor Plowright saved his life, redeeming him in the classic pattern from a life of booze, drugs, and debauchery. Yet his investigations keep leading him into Plowright‛s inner sanctum in the heart of the Cathedral and into a world of deception and treachery that seems distinctly unchristian to everyone but the Christians involved.

In his author‛s note at the end of the book, Beinhart speaks of his work as a "novel of ideas," and so it is. This is at once its greatest strength and the source of some of its major weaknesses. There are simply too many themes to be handled in depth and poor Ahmad, the pretext for much of this, gets rather lost along the way. This note also rather delicately reveals the foundation in a real event of the central crime in progress in the novel. Comics often complain that in times like ours, it is difficult to make things up that are more bizarre than the facts; it would appear that crime fiction writers are running into the same problem.

Beinhart is the author of several previous political novels, most notably WAG THE DOG and THE LIBRARIAN. He is to be congratulated for avoiding the temptation of presenting his villains as simply and uncomplicatedly evil, but he has not quite found a way of developing characters that are richer than what they are able to articulate. What some of them, the women in particular, do articulate is not always wholly convincing, though the uses to which Scriptural reference can be put as part of foreplay are remarkable.

The resolution, if such it may be called, of the book is admirably nuanced, but many readers might feel somewhat deflated when what is, after all, essentially a mystery, does not reach a suitably decisive climax. Read as a morality fable, SALVATION ROAD has much to be said for it, but as an action thriller, it is a bit flat.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, September 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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