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Plain Heathen Mischief Hardcover – April 27, 2004

4.0 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (April 27, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400040965
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400040964
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #446,217 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Rev. Joel King, a good but exceedingly naïve man, dedicated his life to serving Roanoke Baptist Church-until Christy, a 17-year-old temptress, claimed he seduced her. Though he pled guilty when he was charged and served a six-month sentence, there is a gap between what Christy says happened, and what Joel knows happened. He believes, however, that he is guilty because there's no such thing as a "minor" sin. "There's the straight, correct, narrow route, and the rest is just plain heathen mischief." Learning that his wife has filed for divorce and that Christy has filed a $5M damage suit against him and the church, Joel, penniless, gratefully accepts help from Sa'ad X. Sa'ad, a lawyer friend of Edmund Brooks, a former parishioner now living in Las Vegas.
Edmund and Sa'ad X. Sa'ad are partners in a variety of insurance scams, and Joel is the ready-made, carefully selected dupe who gets sucked into a wild scam involving "borrowed jewelry." As the complexities grow exponentially, Joel never waivers in his religious faith but begins to question his interpretation of right and wrong and his understanding of his mission in life. Striving to accomplish long-term right by taking expedient measures which he knows are wrong, he eventually comes to new understandings about real life and the difficulty of identifying a heavenly voice in the cacophony which surrounds him.
Joel King's spiritual crisis is a only a part of this hilariously funny tale which features crosses and double-crosses, misread motives, and scammers getting scammed.
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Format: Hardcover
If you're a "serious novelist," do your best to bore people to death -- otherwise they might not realize you're serious. Make sure the reader knows you're dealing with weighty themes, like the meaning of life, by examining every minor issue with pages of analysis and carefully wrought ruminations. Whatever you do, PLEASE don't dare entertain the reader.
I guess that means that Martin Clark isn't a serious novelist -- he's too much fun, too original, and too much stuff actually happens in his books. In PLAIN HEATHEN MISCHIEF, you've got real issues -- sin and catastrophe, faith and redemption -- but rather than give you a sleep-inducing homily, Clark just throws you in the story and captures you with great characters and flat-out fantastic writing.
Clark's hero, Joel King, is a modern day Job, someone who had everything -- or at least everything he could imagine -- who seemingly was plucked at random to become a holy punching bag. The moment Joel hits his low point is as memorable as anything you'll ever read, a breathtaking scene where I was caught between shock and laughter. That's where a lot of Clark's genius lies -- there are few writers who can genuinely knock you out of your chair laughing and yet possibly change your life, too. To compare him to Hiassen or Leonard is to miss the point. Sure, there's plot - lots of stuff happens, there are wheels within wheels, crosses and doublecrosses galore -- but Hiassen and Leonard are in essence ONLY entertainers, and Clark is the real deal. You can read PLAIN HEATHEN MISCHIEF just for -- well, the plain heathen mischief -- but it's a helluva lot more than a just a great beach read: the book will stay with you long after you've finally got the last sand out of your shoes.
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Format: Hardcover
Martin Clark's last book, the "Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living" is one of my all time favs, so it was a no-brainer to pick this one up, and I wasn't disappointed in the least. Mr. Clark has matured as a writer, and this book is a masterpiece. All the recent New York Times hype is proven correct on nearly evey page. Joel King is a minister who has lost his job and gets wound up in an insurance rip-off just to keep his head above water. The story follows him across the country and through events that are funny and heartbreaking. In Plain Heathen Mischief, every character is real, every situation is vivid and the plot starts in the very first sentence and races right along. This story has all the colorfulness of Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living, but it is more layered, better paced and full of surprises. Mr. Clark is two for two in my opinion, and I'm ready for the next one.
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Format: Hardcover
Legion are the "one-hit" wonders, be they athletes with one great season, singers with one hit record, or authors with one best selling book. With his first novel, "The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living," Martin Clark delivered a fast-paced, well drawn and often hilarious tale of a judge living way too close to the edge. Mr. Clark's second book, though, proves he is an author to be reckoned with; the story is taut, the dialogue true and funny and the characters so well written that we truly know them. The book has humor,morality, travel,escapades and a satisfying, if not totally surprising, ending. It will surely end up on many Best Of Lists for 2004.

The lead character, Joel King, a defrocked Baptist minister, is certainly flawed, but he is no caricature of a Southern preacher, and we come to know and root for him in this work. The other characters, including the scamming Edmund Brooks, shifty lawyer Sa'ad, and Joel's sister Sophie, are real and well developed. Interposed with his story line, Mr. Clark weaves a morality that while unmistakeable, is certainly not overbearing.

Mr.Clark's works are often compared to John Grisham's, as both are supposedly authors of "legal thrillers." That comparison is inapt, in my opinion. Mr. Clark's books are really more character studies, of flawed and struggling individuals trying to turn things around after making big mistakes. In "Plain Heathen Mischief," Mr. Clark has crafted a winning novel that captures the difficulties of human life and the power of redemption. This is a winner for '04-read it and enjoy.
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