Just before New Year's, taking a breather from the political exhaust-a-thon and my book launch, I turned to Larry Beinhart's novel, Salvation Boulevard, which Larry had graciously sent over. Glad I did. Larry, a regular on Huffington Post, though best known as the guy who created Wag the Dog, knows how to do two things: entertain, and make us think.
Salvation Boulevard is a riveting theological-political thriller, but at its core is the story of a man coming to terms with his own beliefs. A private investigator, a born-again Christian, finds himself trying to clear an innocent man, a Muslim, and becomes entangled with some nasty characters, including a hypocritical megachurch minister, contending with a lynch mob mentality, and seeing his marriage torn apart over faith versus fact.
Beinhart, a serious and smart guy, had done extensive research into the paradoxes at the heart of Christian fundamentalism. He blends his intellectual explorations well with a timely look at the loss of civil liberties since 9/11, a brief flash of Jim Thompson-style brutality, a lot of car chases and plot twists, and just the right amount of interpersonal drama and sex.
Though Beinhart's humanist sentiments are evident -- he may not appeal to the sorts who like the apocalyptic Left Behind series -- he doesn't preach, and he doesn't make his characters cardboard cutouts.
Salvation Boulevard is the sort of book that tears at you in two directions--you're tempted to keep on moving through the fast paced narrative, but you also want to stop and ponder the philosophical issues Beinhart raises. And that dualism is what makes a book work.
Award-winning investigative journalist Russ Baker is author of Family of Secrets: the Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces That Put it in the White House, and What Their Influence Means for America. Book info at www.familyofsecrets.com.