Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wednesday Review: A British Crash by Roger Harper

I’m taking a bit of a step outside my usual genre for this review, because… well, frankly, because a Christian novel set in England – in Birmingham, no less, somewhere I know well – deserved a look.

I will start off with a caveat though: This is a self-published novel.* This is not a bad thing; on the contrary, many outstanding novels in the field of Christian literature *cough* Countless as the Stars *cough* have been self-published. And indeed, top marks to author Roger Harper for getting the thing in front of me in the first place.

So, I hear you ask, what exactly is this thing in front of you? Well, at its heart A British Crash is a whodunit, set against predominantly a church-based background, with a Christian protagonist. A flawed Christian protagonist. Indeed, most of the Christian characters are drawn with realistic flaws – the narrator, David Jeffery, is a happily married man who unexpectedly finds himself drawn to another woman; his best friend Will has such an abrupt manner and coarse, often racist language that I found myself questioning whether he was as Christian as he made himself out to be. And, with a Muslim family at the centre of the plot – the titular crash, which is the subject of the whodunit – there is plenty of scope for this (sadly believable) racism to come to light.

The Christian elements of the story are handled interestingly – just as facts, a part of the characters routine lives just the same as work or breakfast – and that allows the author to show genuine, believable Christians interacting with Muslims, New Agers, and hot secretaries without the need for any supernatural nonsense or preachy messages getting in the way.

As an aside, I think the journal format the story is presented in is a little unnecessary. There are whole conversations and daily trivia that I don’t think likely to appear in a real journal; having said that, it didn’t really get in the way, except when it forced the chapters to be a bit too long.

So far so good, but… there’s no escaping the fact that this book didn’t have a professional editor. Calling two characters Jane may be realistic, but in fiction is surely a schoolboy error unless it’s for comic effect. While anyone not from Birmingham might accept that the shopping centre was called The Palisades, there were many typos that I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t take a writer to spot, and I’m convinced the year changes half way through the week.

Now, I probably know better than most how hard it is to get that editing process right. However many times you and your beta-testers read the draft, something will slip through the net. And, to be fair, they weren’t the most hilarious/embarrassing bloopers I’ve seen in a self-pubbed book, but the editing, or lack thereof, does let down what is otherwise a good concept, a decent story, and some nice, authentically broken Christian (and non-Christian) characters.

*OK, technically, it’s published by a Christian Equitable Company, which may or may not amount to the same thing. As a self-published author myself, I believe there is a place for self-publishing (or indie publishing, or whatever you wish to call it) in niches like British Christian fiction, and for getting those labours of love out into the world. But all of that is another conversation, which maybe I’ll return to another day.

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