In Mark Haines’s former life, he was an evangelical youth pastor and a family man. Now, he’s marking time between sunny days surfing and dark nights working security at an industrial complex. His isolation is broken when Cindy, a charming twenty-two-year-old drifter, hustles him for breakfast and a place to crash. Then, his co-worker is murdered in a robbery gone wrong and Cindy disappears on the same night.
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.