A born-again Christian private eye’s faith is shaken to the core when he takes the case of the Muslim student suspected of killing his atheist professor.
“The despair an atheist must feel is unimaginable to a believer,” says Pastor Paul Plowright of philosophy professor Nathaniel MacLeod’s suicide. Cogent as this pious argument might be—certainly MacLeod’s in no position to refute it—it goes out the window with the news that MacLeod’s magnum opus, a proof that God does not exist, has gone missing; his despairing suicide was actually murder. Recovering smartly, the authorities arrest Ahmad Nazami, 21, a Persian-born U.S. citizen they label a jihadist, and beat a confession out of him. Ahmad’s lawyer, Manny Goldfarb, responds by calling in Carl Van Wagener, an ex-cop investigator who’s a stalwart member of Plowright’s supersized congregation, the Cathedral of the Third Millennium. Or maybe not so stalwart, since Carl’s easily tempted from the side of his helpmeet Gwen by the flirtatious wiles of MacLeod’s widow. Should Ahmad be tried in the state system or turned over to the feds? How much does Carl owe his old friend Manny and his scared client? When rumors arise that Plowright’s up to his crucifix in the case, whom can Carl believe? Does Gwen owe him the unquestioning loyalty prescribed by St. Paul, or does she need to be subject to him only when he’s subject to Pastor Paul? And what sort of loyalty does Carl owe Gwen if he thinks she set up his run-in with hired killers? Satirist/scold Beinhart (Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin, 2005, etc.) keeps leaping from one moral conundrum to another, each weightier and more abstract than the last.
Too top-heavy with unassimilated questions to work as a novel of ideas, with a mystery whose solution is too obvious for a genre piece, Beinhart’s overheated curiosity still delivers many pleasures from both genres.