Mysterious Book Report Gun ChurchGun Church by Reed Farrel Coleman

Tyrus Books-F & W Media, $25.95, 396 pages, ISBN 978-1-4405-5170-3

I wasn’t sure about reviewing this week’s MBR after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and elsewhere.  But after thinking about it for a while and seeking advice from friends on both sides of the issue, I’m going ahead with it.  Some may see it as insensitive on my part, and I’m prepared to take the heat for it, while pointing out to everyone that simply ignoring the problem will not make it go away.  Neither will a knee-jerk reactionary piece of legislation passed in haste and regretted at length.  I hope time and grief will allow cooler thoughts and a more rational response . . . but with the Confederacy of Clowns that We, the people, have running the circus in Washington, D.C. which we call the United States Congress . . . anything is possible.

Without further preamble, here’s Mysterious Book Report Number 87.  It’s a real, honest-to-God walk on the wild side, and one of the most thrilling novels I’ve read in a long, long time.  The author is so damn good, I can’t decide whether to hate or idolize him for his talent.  But one thing is for sure . . . this one’s like being in a 90mph car chase down an icy mountain road!

Gun Church by Reed Farrel Coleman savages the drug and greed-filled ’80s with paragraphs like this one on page twenty-seven:

“It was late.  Then again, late was a relative concept.  Back in the day, I’d just be firing up the engine about now and the brittle blondes with their vampire complexions and C-note nostrils would just about be rising from their cocaine coffins.  Here, “late” is defined by the local news.”

The speaker is the first-person protagonist, Kip Weiler, once an up-and-coming wunderkinder, a talented, respected writer who destroyed his once promising career and marriage with illicit sex, drugs and alcohol.  Now, he’s stuck in Bruxton, as a creative writing instructor at a tiny community college in a place where the principal products are “bituminous coal, babies and black lung disease.”  It’s where, “When the wind blows just right, it smells like Christmas trees being hot-dipped in roofing-tar.”  It’s a perfect place for a man without hope . . . because it’s a place with little or no prospects besides death and boredom.  Then, Weiler performs a heroic act and saves his class from a lone student gunman.  He’s temporarily thrust into the national spotlight again, his writing reignites itself . . . and he’s inducted into a cult he calls Gun Church.  After becoming romantically involved with a student named Renee, a woman he calls “The St. Paulie Girl,” and a twenty year-old student named Jim Trimble, nothing in Kip Weiler’s life will ever be the same.  Just as hope reasserts itself and his writing career is possibly resurrected, the allure of Gun Church draws him ever deeper into the dark side.  Like that high-speed chase over an icy mountain road, the plot twists and turns and cliff-hangers keep coming at you like strobe-lights until the last word of the last sentence on the last page.  One of the most interesting, best plotted and intense thrillers I have seen and read in years.  I think I’ll go find the rest of Mr. Coleman’s novels and read until I have blood running out my eyes!  Awesome, is all I can say.


John Dwaine McKenna