SUTTER'S CROSS

W. Dale Cramer, Author
W. Dale Cramer, Author . Bethany $12.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-7642-2783-7
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Contemporary offerings such as this well-crafted debut from Cramer give the evangelical Christian fiction market reason to hope that the term "excellent CBA novel" is not an oxymoron. When Harley, a homeless bearded bum, turns up at a church picnic in the little town of Sutter's Cross deep in the southern Appalachian Mountains, events are set in motion that will challenge the residents' status quo. Harley's countenance is eerily similar to the portrait of Jesus on the church's billboard at the entrance to town, painted by the unlikable Orde Wingo, an outspoken Sunday School teacher who perhaps overexemplifies the problems of fundamentalist Christianity (and is the only character who is overdrawn). Other finely developed characters, including the protagonist, Jake Mahaffey, are forced to confront the fears or pain of their pasts through the events of the present. More tension develops as ruthless visionary Web Holcombe is driven to turn Sutter's Cross into a glamorous resort destination. Cramer ambitiously weaves together multiple themes (father and son relationships, the battle over the area's development, the responsibility of the church to the disadvantaged, racial tension, adolescent angst, Harley's secret past), but his lovely writing keeps the carefully constructed plot moving at a moderate pace. One of the few missteps is the epilogue, which would have been better left to readers' imagination. In a CBA fiction market dominated by female readership, this contemporary novel should find an appreciative audience of both genders. (Jan.)

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