From Publishers Weekly
Clark's second novel is a delight from start to finish, delivering resoundingly on the promise of his well-received The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living. The adventure begins when the Rev. Joel King is released from jail after a six-month sentence for the statutory rape of now-18-year-old gold digger Christy Darden. The question of whether Joel is actually guilty of the crime to which he confessed persists, but he keeps his lips sealed as he and parishioner Edmund Brooks drive from Roanoke, Va., to Missoula, Wyo., to be with Joel's recently single sister Sophie and his Alzheimer's-afflicted mother. It turns out the irascible Edmund is into insurance fraud, among other things, and, with Las Vegas attorney Sa'ad X. Sa'ad, is capable of unimaginable deceit and criminal activity. Facing divorce, jobless and desperate, Joel gets wrapped up in their latest scheme and, before he knows it, the Feds, a corrupt probation officer, the state police and a detective are hot on his trail. Clark also throws in issues of spousal abuse, parental responsibility, and justice, to name but a few. Joel perpetually wrestles with issues of faith, but never in a way that is pedantic or overbearing. There is barely a false note in this comic novel of hope and redemption. Minor characters are rich and multilayered, and the dialogue is priceless ("This is some crazy shit, like the Marx Brothers or I Love Lucy when a person misunderstands one teeny fact and everything snowballs and builds on the wrong idea"). All in all, this is one of the year's most entertaining surprises. Fans of Elmore Leonard's meatier novels will not be disappointed.
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At first glance, Joel King is a familiar figure--a holy roller brought low by a sin of the flesh (here, a carnal encounter with a 17-year-old). But in this seriocomic look at faith and ethics, certitude is hard to come by. The Baptist minister pleads guilty, does time, and finds that job opportunities are scarce for sinning saints. Even with a job, the lawsuits he's facing (a huge civil suit and his wife's divorce petition) ensure a hardscrabble future. But when Joel accepts a ride from a con artist, he's introduced to a new moral outlook--and a new line of work. Joel decides to turn grifter, vowing to use the tools of evil to do good. But this is difficult moral terrain for a former sheltered innocent. Clark (The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living, 2000) does an impressive job of roadbuilding, surveying a twisty plot through a shifting interior landscape. Best of all, because he takes Joel's beliefs seriously, this entertaining novel is moving and real, even though the setup might suggest otherwise. Keir Graff
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