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on July 18, 2010
1. Technical: This is the kind of book the Kindle was made for. The built in dictionary allowed me to quickly understand terms such as cocobolo and the note/bookmark feature allowed me to note/review my speculations on plots and twists.

2. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and its characters. Oddly enough, I was drawn to the folks that surround him more than I was to the main character Roland March. Which shows author Bertrand's skill in creating him. Detective March seems to be a real person (another piece of lettuce trying to get through this world as georgecarlinmighthavephrasedit): petty lustful mean sad caring clueless noble brave . . . real not a cardboard cutout stereotyped action/detective hero/antihero. And in the real world, we don't like everyone. And I don't care for March. But I do like the story, I do like the writing, and I would buy another Roland March book if one shows up.

(2013 update: since I wrote this review, I've purchased and read the next two in the series. Loved them and eagerly awaiting the 4th)
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on July 10, 2010
An intelligent, powerful, gritty mystery with brilliant prose and an eye for vivid detail. The complex but appealing protagonist, Houston Police Detective Roland March is a man haunted by former triumphs and tragedies. In his attempt to solve both a murder and a missing persons case that may be connected, March is pitted against both the bad guys and his fellow police officers, and he tenaciously fights for his survival. Boasting a rich cast of compelling characters, the author weaves a complex plot and intricate subplots, exploring the depths of evil, corruption, forgiveness, and love. I eagerly await the next Roland March mystery. No serious reader of crime novels should miss this one, especially fans of authors James Lee Burke and Michael Connelly. Well done.
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on September 18, 2012
I got this Kindle book on a whim when it was free, and I'm now excited to buy or rent the next installment. It's not your typical murder mystery--it's more of a character study than anything else. However, the characters are interesting enough, as is the storytelling, that I didn't mind the lack of surprises or twists. I had a near 100% success rate on guessing what the reveals would be as the story went along, but that still didn't mean I had all my questions answered or knew *how* everything happened, so I still never felt cheated.

If you are an atheist or non-religious person like myself, don't let the reviews calling the book excellent Christian fiction put you off. It would have given me pause had I known the genre association before reading it, but I honestly do not see this as a Christian book at all--it's a compelling little mystery that happens to have some Christian characters and themes in it. It's a book set in Houston, Texas. It would be inauthentic and silly not to, in my opinion. At any rate, it's definitely not preachy and the main character, at least in this installment, isn't even religious. I can't speak for the rest of the series, but at least in this one, you won't be rolling your eyes nearly as much as March himself!
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on July 17, 2010
From the cover:
Houston homicide detective Roland March was once one of the best. Now he's disillusioned, cynical, and on his way out. His superiors farm him out on a variety of punishment details . . . until an unexpected break gives March one last chance to sve his career. And his humanity.
All he has to do? find the missing teenage daughter of a Houston evangelist that every cop in town is already looking for. But March has an inside track, a multiple murder nobody else thinks is connected. battling a new partner, and old nemesis, and the demons of his past, getting to the truth could cost March everything. Even his life.

My thoughts:
Wow. Gritty. Realistic.
Roland March is desperate to get back on murder duty. Weaseling his way into a murder scene, he's ignored and forgotten, but the only one to find the evidence that a girl was held kidnapped in the house. Rabid for his old job, he does all but beg to be placed on this case.

Instead he's assigned to find Hannah Mayhew, the missing daughter of Houston's famous evangelist. His final day with the police's Cars for Criminals detail, he hauls in one criminal, and unknowingly, lets the real criminal go.

In the midst of is work problems, March is dealing with his own personal demons, the vehicular homicide of his daughter, the apparent distance between he and his wife, the friction from his one-time work partner, and the dope-using, partying renter that lives above his garage. His wife's dissatisfied with him, with how he handles--or won't handle--their renter, and he can't come to terms with his daughter's death.

His theories are varied, but his motive is right. Especially if it means bringing down those who should be standing shoulder to shoulder with him. Even if it means putting a young man in deathly danger, the youth leader who encouraged Hannah to reach out to her needy peers. The young man who offers his service because of his guilt.

The novel takes us on a twisting journey, one that I imagine many a cop travels. If at times, March comes across as a too-needy person, well, his persistence makes up for it. I would have liked to have seen a touch more faith in the book. I particularly hated it when March judged himself as rat-like and also when he cast an eye at his temporary partner Cavallo. I thought it lessened his likeableness.

That's real life, I'm sure. I saw little or no evidence that March was a Christian, and though there seemed to be an improvement in he and his wife's relationship, he didn't grow spiritually or even give a hint that he might at some time or another.

But the other facets of the novel far outweighed those details. It's a realistic story that held my attention. A book that could hold its own with any crime secular novel. I'll be looking forward to Bertrand's next novel.
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on May 16, 2011
Back On Murder by J. Mark Bertrand is a murder mystery extraordinaire. Houston detective Roland March is disillusioned and misunderstood, relegated to special assignments nobody else wants. He gets his big chance for redemption when he is assigned to a missing person's case - one which he thinks is connected to a drug murder; but proving it might just cost him his life. Beyond a very engaging story line with plenty of plot twists and surprises, Bertrand's writing style is masterful. His voice is fresh, descriptive, insightful and never, ever cliché. Coming from a Christian publisher, I can honestly say that this book will appeal to the masses, no matter what one's religious stripe. There are some Christian characters in the book, but they are portrayed as real people and there is never a preachy moment. This is achieved, I think, by the use of the first person narrative. Since the main character himself is not a believer, he is simply observing the behavior of those around him, weighing their worth on a human level. This novel deserves a five star rating, without a doubt.
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VINE VOICEon October 21, 2012
J. Mark Bertrand's _Back on Murder_ is a police procedural. It's also from a Christian publishing house. That the world is not filled to the brim with novels of that pedigree makes this first-time solo effort something of an anomaly in its respective categories. It also puts a lot of pressure on Bertrand to produce something worthy of each.

Houston police detective Roland March knows tragedy. Despite cracking a big homicide case that later immortalized him in print, something happened on a 9/11 anniversary that shrouds March in a perpetual gloom. Broken by that event, he stumbles through his career a marked man, slated for the has-been bin. Worse, he gets the cases no cop wants: investigating suicides of fellow boys in blue.

But given a shot to be "back on murder," he finds an odd clue in what looks like a simple drug deal gone wrong. Does it tie into a recent missing persons case? And how does the suicide of a cop fit in?

Bertrand's creation battles his own demons and crooked cops to get to the truth, along the way encountering a Christian subculture he never understood but which may very well change the detective's life.

Nothing is more clear to book publishers today than the reality that men don't read. In Christian circles, the numbers are even worse. Yet with an untapped market of nearly half the world's population, publishers have been searching for that magic formula that will get men reading. Bethany House Publishers certainly took this into account when it signed Bertrand for what has become (as of this writing) a trio of Roland March novels.

While this first March book is a decent read, it won't be the gold publishing prospectors hope to strike.

PROS:

* Author Bertrand is a Christian, and his knowing insider views go a long way toward fleshing out some of his Christian characters. His "overinvested" youth minister and dangerously earnest teen savior are classics of their types. The Christian side characters in this book ring true, both in their strengths and in their weaknesses. No whitewashing here, and that's refreshing to read.

* Bertrand knows the genre. _Back on Murder_ would be familiar ground for someone who enjoys the novels of writers such as Michael Connelly or Jo Nesbø.

* The plot of the book has intricacies that point to good imagination and confidence in the material.

* Character dialog feels smooth and natural, balanced nicely against the narrative.

* Author Bertrand peppered the novel with interesting metaphors and similes.

CONS:

* While some police procedurals owe more to their plot than any other novel trait, _Back on Murder_ suffers repeatedly for basic underwriting:
--- Underwritten characters - Another reviewer mentioned that it is hard to keep everyone straight in this book and that's largely because Bertrand does not give enough character detail to set some characters apart, especially the cops. They become mere names, with no decent heft to make them memorable.
--- Underwritten settings - James Lee Burke and John Connolly are masters of setting detail. Although they write more in the genre of private investigator fiction, Bertrand could have taken a few cues from them to pump up his procedural. Time and again it felt like he missed opportunities to immerse readers in the "feel" of events. While we're in March's head, we don't experience enough through his senses, which lessens him as a detective.
--- Underwritten "reader anchors" - Bertrand seems to err on the side of assuming his readers are experienced police procedural fans and can follow the little tricks of that genre. One trick is to veil the source of dialog in a scene to obscure the speaker, which is meant to help with a "big reveal," but Bertrand goes to that well a little too often, and it only makes it hard to follow his writing. In addition, some sections of the book call for a line spacing to establish a scene/perspective change or the introduction of a new set of character interactions. More than once readers may find themselves turning back a page or two to recover overlooked info because Bertrand buried it in a minor paragraph amid a huge chunk of text that should have been set off to be more prominent.

* A hurricane hits Houston during the novel's events, but Bertrand doesn't reference it until later in the book, and then merely as a plot device. This kills any opportunity to use it as a framing mechanism for the entire novel, that sense of impending doom, with howling winds, driving rain, and chthonic gloom.

* Every author struggles with the second act of a novel. _Back on Murder_ lost considerable steam in Act Two.

* March bounces around from team to team like a fourth-string NFL quarterback. Homicide, Missing Persons, Suicide--where does he belong? Would a real police department yank someone around like that? Maybe it would, but it didn't work in this novel.

* Despite the strengths of the plot, the pacing often lingers too long in one unimportant spot or casually mentions critical information. And sometimes you want Bertrand just to come right out and say what he needs to say. Some major plot points resolve in a paragraph and it leaves readers wondering if they missed something.

In short, this novel could have used more depth and polishing. Too much plot and not enough of anything else. While that may not be a strike against a straight police procedural circa 1985, readers today are looking for a little bit more. Overall, _Back on Murder_ is a decent effort by a Christian author to write a police procedural for an untapped market. Whether or not Bertrand succeeded for Bethany House may be found in the two novels that follow. We can only wish him--and Roland March--good luck.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon September 10, 2011
This was my first Roland March Mystery (and since it's the first book in the series I though it a good idea) and I must say I was very pleased with the book. At first however I had my concerns. For instance Detective March needed a DNA test done on a blood sample right at the beginning of the book and it took all the way until 40% (Kindle speak) into the book to get the results back. In the meantime the story didn't progress much. Lots of character building and soap-drama but as for the missing girl nothing much happened. What I came to realize was that this book was very realistic to real-life police work. Lots of waiting, missing clues and dead ends. Usually detective stories are not too realistic because the reader wants some of the reality suspended so the story moves along faster. J. Mark Bertrand took another avenue which in my opinion really paid off. The story ended up being very real and quite gripping. I couldn't have been more impressed. The writing was very good and flowed naturally.

The book would have been given four stars except for one event in the book that boosted it up to the "Life Changing" five stars rating. My plans are to continue with the series. I highly recommend the book.

1 Star = Pathetic
2 Stars = Fair
3 Stars = Good
4 Stars = Excellent
5 Stars = Life changing

For those who give me a negative vote on my review please comment and let me know why. I'd like to improve my reviews so they can be helpful to those who read them. (I choose not to give a synopsis of the book because it's already given at the top of the books page.) Thank you.
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VINE VOICEon June 25, 2010
BACK ON MURDER by is a new suspense thriller/police procedural by J. Mark Bertrand. While I received a free copy of the novel from the publisher, I was under no obligation to write a positive review. I'm happy to say that Bertrand has delivered an edgy, thought-provoking thriller. Homicide Det. Roland March is a flawed hero with a distinctive voice brought out by Bertrand's witty first person writing.

March is the "suicide cop," the detective assigned to cover suicides by policemen. It's the worst job you can get, and a sign that March is on his way out. March doesn't want to give up yet, jumps at the chance to work with Lorenz, an up and coming detective, on the murder of several gangbangers at an abandoned house. March discovers that a young girl may have been among the victims, and thinks he can tie it to the disappearance of Hannah Mayhew, the daughter of a famous televangelist.

There's a lot of plot in this novel and March is right in the middle of it. There's the attractive partner, the loyal friends, the corrupt cops, and the murderous drug dealers. But what kept me turning the pages was Roland March. Bertrand has created a great character with a unique voice. From page one, I really fell for March and his demeanor and actions. Early in the novel, Bertrand lets you know that he knows what he's doing. He understand police and how they think and the politics involved in the daily operations of a major case.

March is motivated to solve the case and get back in the good graces of his coworkers. How did he fall out of favor with them? Something tragic happened with March and his wife, and we don't even realize it at first. Less talented authors would spend pages at the beginning of the novel describing March's tragic past and fall from grace. Bertrand delivers the information one small nugget at a time, both with March's past and the backstory between him and other characters. This kept me reading, as I kept learning about March, even at the very end of the novel.

The plot is complex, with plenty of twists, but flows easily from page to page, with all loose ends tying together. My only complaint would be that one character seemed unnecessary (Tommy, the renter) and another, his attractive partner, wasn't developed as much as she could have been. After learning of her faith and her fiance in Iraq , her role in the novel could have easily been played by any of the other nameless detectives in the division.

This is a Christian novel, but there is a lot of violence and death. The message of the novel is subtle and doesn't beat you over the head. Bertand's novel easily compares with books by Steven James (The Pawn, The Rook, The Knight) and fans of John Sandford and Michael Connelly should enjoy it as well.
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on April 6, 2014
I chose this book because I love a good mystery. , But this mystery left me confused more often than not. First of all the character mentions problems between him and his wife , trouble with his job,etc., but not until the second half of the book does he tell you what caused these problems. The book would have been more coherent if these details were at the beginning.. The book has so many characters, you need a notebook to keep up with whose who. There are the departments he is traded off to. 3-4, each with it's on set of characters, the wife, the wife's sister, the neighbor upstairs, the mother of the victim, the youth pastor, the youth pastors friend etc. The book seemed to ramble with not much organization.
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For Roland March, it's pretty simple, either he's going back (to being homicide detective) or he's going out (as in completely out of the Houston PD) March made headlines seven years before when he solved a sensational murder, but the high expectations caused by the publicity of the case combined with a personal tragedy led to a decline in his work where he's on one dead end assignment after another, most regularly working a sting where police capture stupid wanted felons lured into the open with the promise of winning a free car contest.

March makes some keen observations at scene of the murder of an inner city drug dealer. March believes that the murder is tied into a nationally covered disappearance of a teenage girl. He goes against orders to look into the angle and gets yanked off the case and on to the task force looking into the disappearance, another dead end. Can March somehow parlay his hunches, uncover the secrets of a group of crooked cops, and stay alive so that the get his career and life back on track.

The book is remarkably well-written and has high quality throughout most of it. March is a fantastic character with his own set of inner demons. March's narration varies from hard boiled wry cop sarcasm to poignancy, to vivid and powerful word images that paint as clear a picture of 21st Century Houston as Raymond Chandler's Marlowe's stories did of 1940s Los Angeles. The character does change as the story goes on. He becomes more of a team player. At the beginning of the book, his focus is really on him: The quest to get back into Homicide. As his focus shifts to the case at hand, actually getting his man leads to real cooperation.

The mystery is a clever tangled web of intrigue that intersects with crooked cops, with honest efforts to help other, and an old rival of March's that won't go away. Really, everything ties together in the end and the clues are solidly laid out.

The last quarter, and the last sixth of the book in particular do suffer a bit of a slowdown with more fizzle than sizzle. Bertrand made the dubious decision to fill in a bunch of back story details towards the end of the book as we were closing in on the killers and a hurricane kills not one by two birds for our hero. These are minor issues given how good the rest of the book was.

The book is from a Christian company, but has little Christian material. March is a moral man but not a believer. The best Christians get from the book is a murder mystery that doesn't make a Christian look like a psycho. The book is a clean read as far as profanity goes and doesn't go for overly graphic

Overall, I enjoyed the book immensely and will be watching for the next book in the series.
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