14 December 2012

Review: I Heard You Were Looking For Me by Ray Sharp

Joe McCoy, ex-army boxer and now a writer of bad novels, has been hired to write a biography of distinguished former congressman, J Parnell Thomas, who was chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the pre-McCarthy era.

Then Joe finds that he has actually made a deal with the devil (referred to as Pod, for Prince of Darkness), and the dead J Parnell Thomas turns up in Joe's apartment. That's something most Christian fiction avoids - people returning from the dead (well, Frank Peretti may have done it, but he makes it pretty clear that they are demonic).

I picked out I Heard You Were Looking For Me for review because the genre description, 'Christian noir', was intriguing. I once read novel about film noir that seemed to think it was black and white movies that didn't make a profit, so that didn't help. Oh, and they usually had a murder, a detective and a femme fatale (wasn't there a Castle episode like this?). So, while I had no idea what to expect, I Heard You Were Looking For Me still didn’t live up to expectations.

The beginning was hard going. The prelude (not prologue) is about some strange unexplained purple goo. I think Chapter One is trying for a hard-boiled feel, but doesn't quite pull it off. It starts to get going more in Chapter Two with a rehash of past history, and it's here that bad novelist, Joe McCoy, the first-person narrator, begins to find his voice. Most of the story is Joe narrating to Detective Dick Jones. Jones occasionally interjects a comment, which is confusing, as there is no ‘Jones said’ to indicate the speaker, leaving the reader backtracking to decide whether it is Jones or one of the people in the story. Basically, the story-within-a-story device is confusing.

Apart from that, it's relatively well-written (even if there a few commas and italics in strange places), and is even amusing at times. Without being an expert on noir, it does seem to have captured the tone. But the female characters are very one dimensional, and it is TMI to have any real credibility as Christian fiction. There is more to Christian fiction than a narrator who grew up in a Catholic orphanage and who sleeps with every girl he meets until he meets one who won't because she's a Christian (although she seemed perfectly happy to stick her tongue down the throat of a virtual stranger, then break him out of police custody, which seems a tad inconsistent iwth her proclaimed Christian values).

For Christian noir to be accepted as mainstream Christian fiction, it's going to have to have no smoking, less alcohol (including references to in "my friend, Jack Daniels"), less emphasis on the sexual exploits of the narrator (not graphic, but frequent), fewer supernatural interventions, and more emphasis on the underlying faith elements.

Out of interest, I looked up the definition of noir. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines noir as “a genre of crime film or fiction characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity”. Yet Christian fiction is supposed to present a Christian world view. Now, there could be endless debates about what that means, but at the essence, Christianity is a faith that does not encompass moral ambiguity. We believe there is one God, and he sent his only Son, Jesus, to die so that we can be saved from our sin, through His grace. That’s not ambiguous (although I suppose it could be to a non-Christian). So I, personally, don’t see how true noir could be truly Christian.

Thanks to Ray Sharp and BookRooster for providing a free ebook for review.

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