Book review: Dark Horse

Quirky “God,” crisp plot make spiritual mystery series a bargain for a buck

Dark Horse JR Rain spiritual novel metaphysical fiction new age mystery series

Rating: 3 1/2  out of 5 stars

The first novel in a new ebook series by veteran writer J.R. Rain, “Dark Horse” follows Jim Knighthorse’s emotional and spiritual growth as he struggles to solve murders both new and old.  Selling for 99 cents on Kindle, this enlightened spin on the mystery genre promises to engage readers with its fast-paced story line and nontraditional theme.

Story: When high school student Derrick Booker, the only black student at a posh Orange County high school, is accused of killing his white girlfriend, ex-college football hero and detective Jim Knighthorse is hired to dig a little deeper into the murder. It doesn’t take long for Knighthorse to realize that not all is as it seems at tranquil Huntington High, from a band director who preys upon the innocent to a vice-principal with a secret agenda of her own. Not to mention someone’s hired a professional killer to keep Knighthorse permanently off the case.

As the investigation continues, Knighthorse’s personal life is shattered by the discovery of new evidence relating to his mother’s unsolved murder, a murder dating back twenty years. Reeling from the discovery, a determined Jim Knighthorse sets out to bring two killers to justice. (From amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: Medium. In this spiritual mystery, God takes the form of a filthy homeless man who hangs out at McDonalds. His only purpose in the book is to launch Knighthorse’s spiritual education, which does not mesh seamlessly with the plot. However, J.R. Rain may deepen this relationship in future novels, lending the series greater emotional richness as it matures.  Although the novel’s religious orientation is vague, Rain’s version of God leans more toward spiritual agnosticism than Christianity. He discusses reincarnation in detail, including an interesting take on soul agreements prior to incarnation and the soul’s ability to leave the body during times of distress.

My take: At first Jim Knighthorse, private eye, did not charm me. He comes across as a shallow, narcissistic superjock with Daddy issues. He’s cavalier toward his devoted girlfriend and not shy about openly assessing other women’s assets and his own sexual prowess.  However, give the novel a chance. As the plot thickens, so does Knighthorse’s character, into a rich stew of contradictions–equal parts honor and failure, brutality and morality. He desperately wants to be a better man for his girlfriend, his clients, his father, and himself. He discovers “God,” a homeless man named Jack who is one of the more interesting people in the novel; I look forward to seeing how Rain develops that character.  Rain uses the Southern California setting to set expectations about Knighthorse, and then proceeds to shatter the stereotype by introducing a richness of heart and humanity that promises to evolve in future releases.

As the first novel in a spiritual fiction series, Dark Horse sets up the premise that Knighthorse’s spiritual growth may drive his actions and relationships in future releases and deliver more emotional complexity and personal insight. The first installment doesn’t quite deliver on that promise, but Rain is a talented,  experienced writer and Dark Horse is a good beginning. Selling for under a dollar on Kindle, this enlightened spin on the traditional mystery series  should garner a good following in the ebook market. Count me in.

Details:
Dark Horse (Jim Knighthorse Series #1), by J.R. Rain
Amazon Digital Services, 2010
Kindle, 4500 (short)
Buy at Amazon

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