Monday, May 19, 2014

A twisting thriller that holds the road

Review of Golgotha Connection by Caleb Pirtle III

I don’t like a lot of the thrillers I read. Most of them seem to be emulating another derivative thriller, just trying to ride some bandwagon to market success. Far too many read as if the author were trying to write an episode of his or her favourite TV cop show.

So when I opened Golgotha Connection, described on the cover as “A Christian Novel,” I was prepared for disappointment. But what I found were realistic characters, solid writing and a satisfying story.

I even liked the main character’s unusual name: “Andrews St. Aubin,” which opens the book. The author recognizes how preposterous this name is, but has a good reason for it.  And having a French last name for a character in an American thriller is unusual enough.

The plot twists and turns, but holds the road.
St. Aubin is a newspaper reporter with some serious PTSD, memory loss and other psychological problems. He’s followed by a dead man only he can see, and only at night, the ghost of a man he killed in a military engagement that he cannot remember. While he’s trying to make a new life as a journalist, he seems to be more of a gun for hire.

The owner of the Texas newspaper St. Aubin’s works for, Richard Brockleman, sends the reporter to Saltillo, Mexico, to find his brother, Danny B. Danny is a DEA officer who might be corrupt, and disappeared in the drug cartel-controlled Saltillo, Mexico. Brockleman says that instead of busting drug rings, Danny has uncovered incontrovertible proof of Christ’s appearance in Mexico before the Spanish Conquest in 1492.

Pirtle then throws in the trope of the disgruntled military men and corrupt, ambitious politicians attempting a US coup by triggering an upheaval in Mexico.

No, it’s not impossible to make this story plausible.
If any author had come to a publisher with an idea for a novel about a detective finding incontestable proof that Jesus Christ lived, let alone walked in Mexico before 1492, and getting caught in a plot to overthrow the US government through Mexico, he probably would have been advised to pick an easier mystery to pen. But Pirtle handles the challenge well, giving the readers just enough information as the plot builds to keep us readers turning pages.

There were a few places where I was afraid the novel would become excessively Christian, where a plot point could only be explained by a miracle or an answer to true faith, but thankfully, Pirtle avoided that. Everything made sense, and while there is a definite religious motif to this book, it makes sense.

The characters ring true.
Pirtle gives us a wide range of believable characters, all with strengths, weaknesses and flaws. I loved some of them, and detested others, but I reacted to each one. All their actions and reactions logically proceeded from their situations and personalities, with no unbelievable transformations. Richard Brockleman’s agonized family relationships add some surprising depth to the story. I suspected the femme fatale at first, but Pirtle’s iron-tight plot made her completely believable.
The only weak characterization was in the US military guys trying to destabilize Mexico in a bid to reform the US government. They were a little clich├ęd; exactly the same personalities played the same roles in a half-dozen other thrillers I’ve read in the past year. It’s too bad, because they’re the only place where Pirtle was not creative.

The author  gives us a satisfying closing.
Pirtle also avoids a facile story arc. St. Aubin’s struggles against drug cartels, traitors, cowards and ghosts, all of whom leave scars.. At no point do we know for sure who’s going to survive the next battle, and it’s never certain who’s going to win.

Pirtle doesn’t cut corners. The book has been produced professionally, meeting or exceeding the standards of commercial fiction. In fact, this book was much better than the commercially published stuff I have read lately.


Visit Caleb Pirtle III's Venture Galleries for links to buy this and other books.

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