Carl Vanderveer

(creator: Larry Beinhart)

Larry Beinhart
Carl Vanderveer starts off by being very sure that: "I believe in God Almighty, that Jesus Christ is my personal saviour, and in truth, justice, and the American way.“ He is an enthusiastic member of the booming Cathedral of the Third Millenium, led by charismatic and very ambitious Pastor Paul Plowright, that holds over 64,000 worshippers. It was six years previously that, after Carl had “lost my second wife and I was on my way to losing my life", that he had “found myself in tears, real tears and then I went down that aisle and Pastor Paul Plowright put his hands on me, he put one hand on my shoulder and one on my forehead, and I felt the jolt go through me. And I gave myself to Jesus." And so his simplistic faith was born.

He left the police (where he had been a heavy drinker and guiltily remembers being involved in a narcotics swindle), and now works as a P.I. and licensed crime scene investigator. After his conversion, he had married Grace, who is even more of a born-again Christian than he is, and they have a teen-aged daughter Angie. He makes a determined, if sometimes surprisingly violent, investigator, and it is he who narrates the story throughout.

Larry Beinhart (1947 - ) grew up in New York, where he attended the State University of New York at Binghampton. He later spent two years at Oxford as Raymond Chandler Fulbright Fellow in detective and crime fiction writing. He has published award-winning fiction and non-fiction and also written screenplays, his most famous book probably being the political detective novel American Hero (filmed as Wag the Dog). Salvation Boulevard (reviewed below) was his 10th book and it too has been filmed. He has also been a political consultant, made commercials and been a part-time ski instructor, and co-owned a film production company. He lives in Woodstock, New York, with his wife and two children.

Salvation Boulevard (2008)
Salvation Boulevard is set in a town in New Mexico where the vast new Cathedral of the Third Millenium co-exists alongside the atheistic University of the Southwest. Investigator Carl Vanderveer, an enthusiastic born-again member of the Cathedral congregation, is contracted by his Jewish friend, Manny Godfarb, to look into the apparent murder of atheist Professor Nathaniel MacLeod by a young Iranian-born Muslim, Ahmed Nazami. As Carl himself puts it, "I'm a Christian working for a Jewish lawyer who is working for an Islamic kid to find out who really killed the atheist."

As Carl gets deeper and deeper into the investigation, his own most basic beliefs and relationships are tried and his world is turned upside down. The mega-church, the pastor, and his new wife have redeemed Carl from a life of grim debauchery but now they insist on him dropping the case. When Carl's wife tells him, " I don't think you should work for a terrorist," he jovially explains to her, “I'm the hunter gatherer, you're the cave keeper. That's how God organised it. So, you don't tell me not to hunt the big bison, and I don't tell you how to keep the home. We have our places, and knowing them and keeping them is what keeps us happy." And Carl explains to the reader that “That was practically verbatim from the couples counselling we'd had from the Ministry of the Third Millennium before we got married – and heard repeated in a hundred sermons and Christian couples workshops."

So Carl remains determined to search for the real killer and discover the real truth – no matter what the personal cost. It makes a strong story with an interesting cast, of whom the least convincing is Carl himself whose belief system, after six years membership of his mega-church, remains so naive that it comes as no surprise when even he comes to question it. It all leads up to a melodramatic climax featuring the pastor himself, who, Carl starts to suspect, may be far from the saintly god-fearing character he had supposed.

The characters whom the author most favours are clearly the murdered atheist professor and the wise old Jewish lawyer Manny Godfarb, who continues to appear and offer encouragement to Carl even after he has been murdered. Carl, relieved to discover that Manny is not roasting in hell as he had supposed was the fate of all Jews, goes on to take his reappearance very much for granted. It is Manny's rabbi who had said at his funeral that “A lot of these other religions, they have answers. Here, I'm afraid you just get questions. What can I tell you, we're Jews .... I believe there is God above, somewhere, who made us and watches over us and is telling us what is right and wrong. Yet I also believe that when people believe in dogma, it leads to violence and death, like the tragedy before us, here, today.“ It is not difficult to deduce from this that the author himself might be a non-believing Jew - and so he is.

But even the dead Manny still has a sense of humor:
“ 'It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks,' a voice said. Acts 9:5, if I remembered my Bible study right. But I'd never heard it said quite that way before, with a touch of sarcasm, emphasising the word pricks for the puns in it.
'Will you go away,' I said to Manny, who was standing just at the edge of my peripheral vision."
But Manny goes on to tell him to have a look for his old cell phone which, Carl now remembers, contains the photos of two possible suspects ....

The reader soon feels very involved in the ongoing action with its graphic sexual and indeed even torture scenes,. There are some amusing moments too, including what I took to be a humorous reference to an assistant professor who taught “introduction to feminist geography" - but then I discovered there really is such a subject!

The author is much concerned with basic questions about belief, and by the end of the book, Carl has realised, “If God is who we are told he is, the world would have to be a different place. If the world is the way it is, and there is a God, he must be either indifferent, so indifferent as to mean almost nothing, or perverse and evil." And Carl's eventual conclusion is to accept Manny's teaching that "Chaos always remains, and no matter how many battles we might win, the last one remains, the one in which we die. His (Manny's) steady hand and his set face tell me what he's come to say, that I must not despair in the face of it or accept false tales to deny it. I must know it and continue nonetheless because that is our glory. And our true salvation."

It certainly makes an unusual and intriguing detective story, although, as the author says, "The mystery, the real mystery, is God. Belief, religion, tithing and all the trappings. My goal was to unravel those mysteries." You can't really blame him if he doesn't quite succeed.

The author has his own website (with an About the Author section that tells us next-to-nothing about him!) and there is an interesting interview with him (with an entertaining account of his Oxford experience) in the January Magazine.

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Salvation Boulevard cover
The cover looks confused - as is the leading character.
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