The novel's setup and inciting incident suggest it will be a simple whodunit, a novel whose central mystery is discovering the ins and outs of Mike's murder. Instead, it's a story of obsession ... The Churchgoer uses all the hallmarks of its genre — from punchy sentences to profound and sometimes overwrought observations about the gloominess of life and the terribleness of people, to the youthful ingénue, to the unfolding of a possible conspiracy — in order to tell a story that criticizes every element of these dynamics ... As a narrator, Mark is fantastic precisely because he's self-aware in a way that noir doesn't tend to showcase.
Noir isn’t the easiest genre to pull off; its tropes have been endlessly imitated and parodied. But The Churchgoer is both defiantly original and faithful to its literary predecessors—the novel’s pacing is perfect, and Coleman does an excellent job building suspense … Coleman uses red herrings and misdirection to keep the reader guessing, which isn’t an easy trick, but he executes it brilliantly. Coleman also displays a masterful grasp of the language that become associated with noir fiction, while never descending into cliche … His greatest accomplishment in The Churchgoer, though is the character of Haines …Troubled detectives are nothing new in noir fiction, of course, but the self-awareness Haines exhibits makes him fascinating; he freely admits that he’s become governed by resentment and rage … Coleman’s book reads like a tribute to California noir, but there’s nothing well worn or derivative about it. The Churchgoer is a wonderful debut novel from a writer with more than a few tricks up his sleeve.
The Churchgoer is populated with the kind of hard-boiled monologues one associates with the noir genre...and its cast of pistol-wielding drug peddlers wouldn’t be out of place in your average detective novel. But Patrick Coleman’s background is in poetry... a background that’s revealed not only in The Churchgoer’s lush language––even the seediest and most squalid neighborhoods of San Diego County are rendered with great care––but in the way Coleman is far more interested in Mark’s crisis of faith than a conventional plot ... The Churchgoer is at once a cracking noir yarn and an introspective examination of the limits of belief and doubt.
Despite Mark’s evangelical past, The Churchgoer is every bit as hardboiled as the crime novels of Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson ... Coleman dispatches his detective all over San Diego and takes pleasure in puncturing the myth of San Diego as America’s Finest City ... a tightly plotted noir with all the classic tropes of a detective novel; but it’s also an existential rumination on what it means to come to the end of things. The detective’s search for clues to solve the mystery stands in for man’s search for meaning in a world ruled by uncertainty.
Persons of faith will likely feel uncomfortable in Haines’s company. Others, including those who admire Coleman’s poetry collection, Fire Season, will sympathize as his protagonist struggles to achieve some peace of mind. Most readers will be curious to see what the author does next.