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Salvation Boulevard: A Novel Hardcover – September 9, 2008
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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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
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Given that...in a story of murder and mayhem, I hope for surprises. Here, I was only truly surprised by one plot development, which takes place less than midway through the book. I'm not saying I anticipated all the specifics. But the characters I expected (from the way they'd been portrayed all along) to be guilty of wrongdoing were in fact guilty of wrongdoing.
Early on, we're told a minor character has insisted on something's being worded in a certain way, rejecting another possibility. I kept waiting for that to have some plot relevance, but it never does.
Finally, while I can understand the author's wanting to end the story the way he did, the denouement was too long and dragged-out for my taste.
Carl, a former cop, his wife, Gwen, and his adolescent daughter from a previous marriage, Angie, belong to the Cathedral of the Third Millennium, a 6,400-member fundamentalist mega-church built of glass and steel and shepherded by the Rev. Paul Plowright. (Give you one guess who the bad guy is.)
Renouncing drugs, alcohol, casual sex and thinking for himself, Carl gives Plowright credit for saving his life and Jesus the glory for saving his soul. Harboring nary a doubt (uncertainty is for the faithless), Carl abides, for a time, in the love of God, family and the flock at CTM.
But abiding time starts ticking down when Carl is hired to investigate a murder that leads him into temptations of the flesh and the spirit. Here's how Carl describes his situation, "Look, I'm a Christian working for a Jewish lawyer who's working for an Islamic kid to find out who really killed the atheist. It's America, right?"
Beinhart, whose previous novels include WAG THE DOG and THE LIBRARIAN, both must-read page-turners for political junkies, takes aim this time at scoundrels behind stained glass windows who've had it coming.
For a high-speed excursion of America's search for meaning in these strange times, take SALVATION BOULEVARD. Beinhart will have you hollering "Amen!"
I'm an atheist raised as a fundamentalist Christian, so I was uncomfortable at first finding myself inside the mind of an evangelical Christian. But that's the protagonist, of course, not the author. Anyway, I was already hooked. The story unfolds over the wreckage of our legal system left after eight years of Bush's "war on terror" and the Bill of Rights. Using the Muslim student's arrest - he's already being called a terrorist - as the case in point, the detective's charismatic superstar minister paints a picture of holy war between "them and us," and the church brings every kind of pressure on the detective to drop the case. The detective, who believes the student innocent, is having trouble with his faith. And I'll leave the rest of the story for you to enjoy, while I read the author's other two books, "Wag the Dog" and "The Librarian."
Beinhart is a very savvy political observer in the real world, writing for huffingtonpost, opednews and other political sites. But he is brilliant when it comes to weaving stories that are built upon the politics, the characters and issues of the day.
Salvation Boulevard is a mystery and a.... not a thriller, though it has plenty of thrilling moments, not an adventure, though the story takes you on quite a ride... I'm not sure exactly how you'd categorize it. A theopolitical action story?
Beinhart walks you into the world of the evangelical right wing megachurch, into the mind of its members and its leaders and he creates a very believable collection of characters who learn to love, hate or despise.
Even if you're not interested in politics, there's a great story here. I understand it's been optioned to be made into a movie and that's not at all surprising. It should be put on the screen and when it is, it will be a hit I'll be sure to watch.