January 24, 2005

Bye Bye Bertie, by Rick Dewhurst

Here's another remarkably funny book. It's a mystery novel, and a remarkably odd one at that.

Fair disclosure: the author sent me a free copy of this book, otherwise I'd never have picked it up in a million years. I accepted his offer with some apprehension, because this is a book that comes from the Christian Ghetto. There's quite a lot of fiction written from an explicitly Christian world view, published by explicitly Christian publishers for sale by explicitly Christian bookstores. I don't tend to read it, even though I'm a Christian; the little that has come to my attention (I'm thinking of the Left Behind series) hasn't been to my taste, and being a bit of a snob I've always felt that it was any good it would be sold in regular bookstores anyway (as Lewis and Tolkien and Walker are (Hi, Lars!)).

So I accepted this book rather against my better judgement, and rather put off reading it after it arrived in the mail. I was terribly afraid that it would be incompetently written, or so terribly, terribly earnest about the Christian faith that I'd find it uncomfortable reading. Please note: the Christian faith is indeed worth being terribly, terribly earnest about. But I find that fiction needs a lighter touch.

Anyway, I needn't have worried, and I'm actually a little ashamed of being such a snob, because I enjoyed Bye Bye Bertie immensely. Subtitled "A Joe LaFlam Mystery", it's a well-done farce. Joe LaFlam is a Christian private eye by day, a taxi driver by night, and a complete nutcase almost all of the time. He suffers, if that's the word I'm after, from a nearly continuous hard-boiled internal monologue about the state of his soul, his desire to be married, and his life as a private eye in the rainy town of Seattle, Washington, and sometimes his monologue spills over onto the people he meets. This generally causes them some confusion, because he in fact lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

In the current tale (the first, and so far, I believe, the only one), Joe is approached by a beautiful young Christian woman; her sister has been kidnapped by a group of druids who are demanding $200,000 or they'll sacrifice her to their druidical divinity. Being, in his own mind, the gallant Christian knight, he undertakes to deliver the ransom--and then attempt to capture the kidnappers. Nothing goes as he plans, of course, and he ends up getting arrested by the police for rummaging suspiciously in trash cans; and the next day...

But I don't want to tell you the whole story, because that would spoil it.

The only thing that prevents me from recommending this book whole-heartedly is that it was written to be read by folks from a very specific Christian subculture, and if you aren't familiar with that background the book might seem very alien indeed, and you might have trouble telling when Dewhurst is being serious and when he's being over-the-top. The fact is, he's being over-the-top silly most of the time; like me, he's a man who needs to handle serious things with lightly.

And he does, indeed, speak of serious things. Joe's internal narrative reveals him to be a total nutcase, as I've said, Christian or not; but if Joe's capacity for self-delusion about the quality of his spiritual life is funny, it's also all-too familiar. My own internal monologues aren't nearly as purple as Joe's, but I've wrestled with lots of the same issues, and I've probably fooled myself just as often.

Well, maybe not that often. But often enough. At least--

Well, anyway, Dewhurst's written a book that even the secular humanists in my audience might enjoy. Just remember that it's a comedy, that it's over-the-top and exaggerated, and that it's not a life-portrait of those Red State voters you've been hearing about, as tempting as it might be to think otherwise. And even though your Borders or B&N might not have it, Amazon does.

Posted by Will Duquette at January 24, 2005 07:14 PM

Phil W said:

I noticed this book on another site this weekend. I'm glad you like. That affirms my impression.