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Crime Puzzle
He Comes in Fire

Aaron R. Even

Atticus Press
232 Pages; Print, $10.15

inline graphic Crime novels act as contract between writer and reader allowing engagement in plot and titillating paranoia surrounding each character until a successful resolution. Too much information confuses the reader, causing feelings of inadequacy. Too little information and the reader feels tricked; if there is a plot twist not deftly handled the reader feels robbed after entering this contract, as if there was no good faith. Aaron R. Even's novel, He Comes in Fire delivers a satisfying journey through a suspenseful plot with many richly developed characters.

The narrative is character driven, suspense is built by suspicion; the novel feeds the reader's uncertainty about certain characters as the plot unfolds, told from differing points of view in broken sections. The structure is well planned and executed, giving more insight into characters and relationships with each iteration of a character's story. The plot develops in each section, including a portion that must break the chronology to establish current events.

Because of the nature of the crime, the burning of a church in the South, the reader's own preconceptions about the nature of this crime affect the experience of reading this novel. According to Even's Blog post "As Church Arsons Persist, A Good Answer Is Hard to Find," the search for a pattern and easy answer where none can be found is at the heart of our understanding of church burnings. "Ultimately, as frustrating and unsatisfying as this is, the defining reality of modern church arsons may be their chaotic individuality. Instead of 'who' is burning churches, perhaps we need to wrestle with the deeper notion of 'they'—a more troubling pronoun, to be sure, offering no promise of clarity, and no easy answers."

Even's seamless writing and rich description elevate this above an ordinary crime novel. Our first introduction to Dana allows us to discover this main character in place, showing us who she is rather than offering explanation. "Now leaves were falling from the oak trees. The hydrangeas were rusting. She crushed the season's last mosquito against her forearm with a kind of sadness, wiping away the pearl of blood." Other characters' defining traits identify personality and reveal physical location such as Dana's brother Lucas's habit of parking his truck askew. The dialogue establishes character as well, revealing singular traits. Fast talking Dixon who never met a stranger is distinct on the page from the thoughtful policeman, Rayburn. Even creates strong characters but still leaves the reader in satisfied suspense about their motivations, creating a hall of mirrors effect so the reader is never sure what is a reflection and what is the true thoroughfare through the narrative.

Because of his care and attention to some characters, the lack of development in others is missed by the reader—particularly those in the black community directly affected by the burning of the church. The congregation and the Preacher do not develop alongside the other characters. The black characters remain silhouettes to the backdrop of the burned building, establishing a place and one potential motive. Perhaps this is by design so as not to overwhelm the reader with too many characters within an intricate plot and structure, or perhaps it is meant to heighten the sense that church burnings occur world wide, not just in the Southern United States. An opportunity is lost though, to deepen the humanity of the victims, to show the effect of the crime on a specific community instead of the sole question of "Who did it?" It is also an opportunity missed by a talented writer of modern American fiction to show black people as fully fleshed out characters, not just as suspects or victims. The subtle point Even hopes to explore here is about assumptions regarding the perpetrators of church burnings with hate crimes as the obvious motive. As crime novels go there is room to twist plot in many directions, but this literary crime drama defies categories and the writer has the chops to create more nuance with black characters, particularly since...