LocalLit book review: a crime fiction novel for readers of literary fiction

Joliet author’s ‘Blue Religion’ is an even-paced character driven story

The best part about not quite finishing “Blue Religion” by Alverne Ball of Joliet is that you won’t find any spoilers in this review.

To be clear, I absolutely intend to finish the book. But “Blue Religion” turned out to be more of a well-written literary read than a fast-paced, plot-driven story that rushes to the end. But with the galley being 328 pages, I knew Ball had taken his time developing his story.

Now this was good news for me because crime fiction is probably the genre of which I have the least experience. But “Blue Religion” was different from those stories I’d previously read.

First, here is the description of “Blue Religion” on the Vital Narrative website that will publish the book in October: “In the sequel to 2016′s “Only The Holy Remain,” Detective Frank Calhoun springs back into action after a social worker and a rookie police officer are murdered in Chicago’s East Garfield Park.

“Flanked by his new partner Fred Lions, while also battling remnants of his father’s recent conviction, Frank chases down clues across the city as he begins to assemble pieces of the case. With mounting pressure from his girlfriend Gloria, as well as the assistant state’s attorney striving to make a career off the case’s headlines, Frank must keep his head on straight as he attempts to find the killer and navigate the pitfalls of the blue religion.”

I have not read Ball’s first book. Having read most of his second, I’m confident saying it’s not mandatory to read “Only the Holy Remain” in order to follow “Blue Religion.” That said, the release of “Blue Religion” is still several months away, so readers do have time to catch up.

Back to “Blue Religion.” Ball hooked me in the opening line: “I was born in death.”

And in the next lines, I knew Ball could write well and that the story would be a satisfying read:

At least that’s how my father put it whenever I’d ask him about my mother. In truth, I guess he’s right, because she died during childbirth. Some people say it was her last selfless act, but I’ve been told that a mother’s love is unconditional, and no matter how one tries to spin it, the fact is, she died so that I could live.

Detective Frank Calhoun spends a little more time in the middle of the night reflecting on his past and how it affects his career, which the reader senses might be more of a calling than simply a career with a paycheck. Soon Calhoun’s thoughts are interrupted with a message from his new partner, making sure Calhoun understood they were being called out to a crime scene.

But don’t expect the pace to vroom from there. Ball unfolds his story with almost methodical precision. Even the officers make careful examinations and thoughtfully analyze the evidence.

I take a deep breath, then pull out a pair of latex gloves from my pants pocket and slide them on. After taking three long steps back from the body, I stand there and look at the layout of the scene. If there’s one thing I can say I’ve learned from Lions, it’s that every detective has a different method of approaching a crime.

Characters are three-dimensional. Back story and any need-to-know information is tightly woven into the narrative without slowly down the pace.

I stare across the small aluminum table at Officer Smith. His black hair is tucked neatly under his officer’s cap, which he removes when he takes a seat. I can see that his eyes are still ablaze with hate for me as he scrunches his furry black eyebrows together into one long unibrow.

He taps his calloused fingers against the table, and in a way I’m grateful, because it keeps me from looking directly at the misshapen mound of cartilage over the bridge of his large hook nose––where I broke it.

I decide to try and clear the air by letting him know that we don’t need to be at each other’s throats. In spite of everything, we both bleed CPD blue. “So, where’s your partner, Richter?” I ask gingerly.

I’m sure fans of crime genre will enjoy this book. But I’m especially recommending “Blue Religion” to readers who enjoy immersive novels where the characters lead the story, readers who think they may not enjoy a crime novel.

Is literary crime fiction a genre? If it isn’t, perhaps Ball has invented a new genre.

Per-order “Blue Religion” at vitalnarrative.com.

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Contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or dunland@shawmedia.com.

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