Written by Cal Moriarty — Debut author Cal Moriarty was discovered after taking a course at the Faber Academy, and the publisher now has a fine writer on its hands who can weave a tale full of surprises and twists. Set in the early 1980s, the story begins when Bobbi Lomax is killed after a bomb explodes in her car, outside her house. Bobbi is the wife of Arnold Lomax. He’s a senior member of The Faith, the religious group that holds sway in the fictional Abraham City, and the rest of Canyon County. He also has an ex who feels hard done by, particularly as Bobbi was beautiful, enchanting and, yes, younger than her.
The Faith’s leaders are all men of outward respectability and intense moral rectitude. They neither drink nor smoke, and have a passionate regard for their messianic founder whose vision established the community back in the 19th century. They also are particularly prickly when it comes to allegations of polygamy, which they are at pains to put into its proper historical context. The Faith’s similarities with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormons, can hardly be coincidental.
Then we have Clark Houseman. He has a wife, Edie, and a young family. By profession he is a buyer, seller and forger of old manuscripts, coins and first-editions. Both he and Edie are members of The Faith, but Edie is the more devout of the two. Every crime novel needs cops, both good and bad, and on the side of the angels are Marty Sinclair and his partner Al Alvarez. Their boss, known only as The Captain, isn’t essentially bad, but he is very much a puppet of The Faith.
This is a crime novel, so what are the crimes? Well, of course there are the bombs which have killed Bobbi and other victims. Prettily wrapped in boxes complete with ribbons, they are instant and deadly. Then there is the suspicious collapse of a property and investment portfolio supervised by Arnold Lomax – not as serious as the bombings but serious nonetheless. The bombs and the attempts by the cops to work out who set them and why, take up much of the story, along with Houseman’s immaculate and ingenious forgeries.
Sinclair and Alvarez are getting nowhere fast with their investigation into the bombings. So far, all the victims have been killed and there’s not enough evidence to give them any traction. Then they get a break. Clark Houseman is targeted by the bomber but is lucky enough to survive, albeit with serious injuries. While they wait for Houseman to recover enough to talk, the cops sense that some of their unanswerered questions – who is the mysterious Cliff Hartmann, and why are The Faith being so defensive? – lie somewhere close to the secretive heart of the organisation.
If you are slightly thrown by the flash-forward, flash-back opening chapters of this excellent novel, please stick with it. I initially wondered what it adds to the novel, but it will begin to make sense the further you get into the narrative. Houseman’s ingenuity and skill at his chosen craft are mesmerising, and completely plausible. There are traumatic events in Marty Sinclair’s past which are hinted at without being fully explained. It would be fantastic if Cal Moriarty could write a prequel centred on the police officer, who comes across as an enigmatic but endearing character.
The Killing of Bobbi Lomax is released 7 May. For more debut crime novels click here.
Faber & Faber
CFL Rating: 5 Stars