Former private eye turned debut novelist, Cal Moriarty, surprises and wrong-foots the reader at every turn in The Killing of Bobbi Lomax, her refreshingly different blend of police procedural and conspiracy thriller. She also succeeds admirably in giving reviewers a tough time in explaining the plot without giving anything away…

This is the first part of what Moriarty describes as a loose trilogy, takes us on a trip into the American religious heartland, setting her book in the god-fearing community of the fictional Abraham City in Canyon County. The story opens in 1983 with the death by incendiary of Bobbi Lomax, the much younger wife of Arnold Lomax, a prominent figure in the local church The Faith, which influences and controls every aspect of this small, quiet community. The investigation into her death is led by detectives Marty Sinclair and Alvarez, two former city cops relegated to this veritable backwater for reasons as yet unknown, and how local book dealer, Clark Houseman, a casualty of another bombing incident, (one of the three that occur in 24 hours) may, or may not, be linked to the central crime. The story then pivots between the present and a year previously taking us on a cerebral trip into the world of religious fundamentalism, and the counterfeiting of literary and religious documents, that expose the less than Christian underbelly of The Faith but,  just what has the bookish Houseman to do with it all, and could he really be a stone cold killer?

Obviously, any overt dwelling on the plot, would be detrimental to you, the reader, so I will just say that the labyrinthine plotting, and clever and surprising plot turns, work incredibly well throughout. This is a real novel of smoke and mirrors, particularly in the character of Houseman, who stands at the front and centre of this book, navigating the waters of religious fervour, and turning a quick buck. However, Moriarty neatly uses him as a prism, consistently presenting different versions of himself to not only his fellow protagonists but, also delighting the reader with the differing shades of his character. This more tricksy character is pitted against the solid characterisation of Sinclair and Alvarez, who although reminiscent of a couple of other detective duos I have encountered, admirably hold together the straight police procedural aspect of the plot, and I rather enjoyed the less well-drawn picture of their previous career, making me intrigued to find out more in future books. Likewise, Moriarty got me on side instantly with her playful probing of the nature of organised religion at work in the cult of The Faith and the moral outrage they display towards counter-church The Real Faith, and the characters within are as bullish and misguided as one would expect of two religions divided by the arcane concept of polygamy. As Houseman and our intrepid detectives, seek to infiltrate these groups for differing reasons, Moriarty plunges us deeper into the the secrets and lies these supposedly upright citizens are desperate to conceal to great effect, with a plausible and thoroughly enjoyable outcome.

This is an unerringly clever crime novel, packed with literary allusions, cold-blooded murder and sociological musings. Underpinned by the author’s familiarity with the location of the religious heartland of America, and the pivoting timeline Moriarty brings us a tale that tricks and surprises the reader, this is a welcome diversion from the more familiar tropes of crime fiction. An excellent read, with I’m delighted to say considering my nom de plume, with plenty of  Poe time too…

Cal Moriarty also writes for film and theatre, and previously worked as a private eye. She attended both the ‘Writing A Novel’ and ‘Edit Your Novel’ courses on the Faber Academy in 2012-13. Visit her website here and follow on Twitter @calmoriarty

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Advertisements