From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Best known for American Hero
(1994), the jaunty political novel that became the film Wag the Dog
, Beinhart offers something less jaunty but definitely more ambitious in this splendid religious legal thriller. When Ahmad Nazami, a Muslim scholarship student at the University of the Southwest, confesses under duress to the murder of Nathaniel MacLeod, an atheist philosophy professor, PI Carl Van Wagener, a born-again Christian, agrees to help Manny Goldfarb, a celebrated Jewish defense lawyer, prove Nazami's innocence. Van Wagener, a member of charismatic pastor Paul Plowright's Cathedral of the Third Millennium, is soon on the trail of a missing manuscript MacLeod wrote disproving God's existence. In a beautifully understated author's note, Beinhart lays out the factual basis for his provocative morality tale and invites readers to visit his Web site, which includes a forum for an ongoing dialogue about religion, irreligion, faith, belief, and their intersections with politics, war, money, life, and death. (Sept.)
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Beinhart tells the tale of recovered alcoholic Carl Van Wagener, a man torn between the comfort of belonging to his evangelical megachurch and his respect for the Constitution and the rule of law. He is an ordinary man, a cop turned private investigator, and he is ill-equipped to confront the logical, theological, and philosophical dilemmas that arise when he is asked to investigate the murder charge against a Muslim student arrested for killing a local professor who questioned the existence of God. But pressure from within his megachurch—and from his true-believing wife—to drop the case, force him to question faith, religion, marriage, and even the beneficent God who will welcome him into a Christian-only heaven. Beinhart does a fine job describing the treacly paradise of the Church of the Third Millennium and a finer job ratcheting up the pressure on his fragile hero. A few plot elements seem over the top—e.g., “privatizing” a university’s endowment—but Beinhart adds notes showing that George Bush did exactly that. Deep-dyed evangelicals will be angered, but many others will be unable to put this one down. --Thomas Gaughan