CHOP SHOP: A Bug Man Novel
In this highly anticipated sequel to SHOO FLY PIE --- highly anticipated by me, that is --- first-rate Christian author Tim Downs does not disappoint. Forensic entomologist Nick Polchak, one of the most interesting and best-drawn characters in contemporary Christian fiction, is back and in his usual rare form, antagonizing both the faculty and the student body at North Carolina State University. Or, actually, one student's body --- literally. His "decision to dissect" a student for falling asleep in his class earns him official censure and yet another summer off. This time, he heads for Pittsburgh and the relative quiet of his mother's house, where he can study a bug's life to his heart's content.
This time, though, we discover that Nick the loner has softened a bit --- but only a bit --- in his attitude toward other people. We meet an actual friend of his, a longtime buddy named Leo. And for the first time, Nick notices a member of the opposite sex, a woman named Riley McKay, who works as an intern in the county coroner's office and becomes a potential romantic interest for Nick. That's a major step for a man who previously described a particular woman's anatomy in entomological (read that "insect") terms.
In this episode, Downs introduces Dr. Ian Paulos, an ethics professor who is nearly as amusing and intriguing as Polchak is. He is also the most fully developed Christian character in Downs's Bug Man stable. (One of the most frequent criticisms of SHOO FLY PIE was that the book was "not Christian enough," the kind of comment that bugs me no end. Downs recently signed with WestBow, which in its short history has already been labeled "not Christian enough," so his writing is apparently a good fit for them.)
Paulos the ethicist figures into the story as Polchak and McKay begin investigating an apparent link between the coroner and a medical research company called PharmaGen. The two believe that the company, which specializes in genetics research, is approaching the wealthiest patients on a regional transplant waiting list and offering to obtain organ donations privately --- by finding matching donors, murdering them, and harvesting the organs on the spot.
Polchak's ability to examine blowflies, maggots, mosquitoes and such to determine a victim's time of death and other important details proves to be a vital element in their investigation. And Downs's ability to describe the work of a forensic entomologist in minute and fascinating detail (think bug-intensive "CSI") makes the whole situation believable. Of course, he could have all his facts dead wrong, and I'd never know it. He sure makes it sound authentic, though, and that adds to the credibility of this multi-layered story.
With CHOP SHOP, Downs secures his position among the very best novelists in the CBA publishing world. He has managed to avoid the sophomore jinx, and now that he has signed a contract for three future novels, there's every reason to believe that we'll be treated to even more delightful and fast-paced fiction from his imaginative mind. And if those three books aren't Christian enough, so be it. They're likely to be excellent novels, and that ought to be good enough.
--- Reviewed by Marcia Ford (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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