Jesus Christ heads to New Hampshire to assist an Army sniper home from Iraq in this earnest, sentimental debut.
How earnest and sentimental? Look no further than the name of Landis’ hero: Warren Pease. This conflicted soul (he’s nicknamed War, in case the message isn’t clear) spent his tour of duty as a precision killer of “high-value targets.” The circumstances of War’s return home aren’t made explicit until the end, but between the title and his brand-new buddy, it’s not hard to tell what’s happened. Jesus meets War on the beach and accompanies him as he visits with friends and family. Among them are Bethie, War’s longtime girlfriend; their daughter Dodie; Ryan, who stole Bethie’s heart after War went overseas; and Bethie’s father, a high-school English teacher who was a key inspiration during War’s youth. No one questions the presence of Jesus, introduced as War’s new friend Ray; Landis makes him a mix of easygoing wingman, comic relief and proof of salvation. Ray miraculously cooks multiple omelets from one egg at Bethie’s house; easily banters with bartenders and cops; and offers a sage presence as War wrestles with his lost love and memories of his time in Iraq. The only thing slightly tempering the novel’s footprints-in-the-sand piety is Landis’ deep knowledge about snipers. He has the technical lingo down, and on occasion he artfully renders the moral negotiations that War has had with himself about being a killer. The closing chapters feature a surprising amount of grit and gore, and there’s enough gallows humor and tough talk to give War’s experience an air of authenticity. Ultimately, though, the book is an unapologetic act of proselytizing, complete with wince-inducing lines like, “When it comes to Heaven, we all want to be a High-Value Target.”
Drab and uninspiring.