Spotlight Book! “Never the Sinner” by Tony Denn
In the small town of Hope, Roland Recht is a detective, a deeply religious man trying to understand his place in an increasingly secular world. And his latest case, the murder of an isolated pastor, hits him harder than usual. Killed within the Congregation of Saul’s compound, the only witness is Lizzie, the group’s newest and youngest follower, and it seems clear that a former member must be responsible. But when Recht and his girlfriend suffer a personal and terrifying threat, it sends the investigation in a new direction, one that no one – not even his superiors or the FBI – wants him to pursue. Never the Sinner sees a good man forced to choose between continuing his career as a cop, and seeing true justice done.
Q: Roland Recht is an unusual character in detective fiction. Why write this?
A: I was drawn to this character as a kind-of a challenge. Whenever we see detectives in mainstream fiction, even if they are churchgoers, they rarely see their religion as the most important thing in their life. In early beta reads people asked for him to be MORE conservative, and MORE committed to his religion. I instantly flashed on this idea that there is often a conflict between evidence and faith, especially for non-relgious people. But that isn’t the case for Recht. He is a character in a mainstream detective novel who just happens to believe in a Creationist religion.
Q: So… he’s a religious freak?
A: To be a freak he’d have to be so unusual as to not exist anywhere, but people like Roland do exist in all walks of life—architects, mechanics, teachers, doctors, politicians—and there are millions of them. Being a Christian, or devoted to any particular religion, doesn’t make him a freak.
Q: But he does espouse a worldview that many will disagree with.
A: Yes, but then so do many detectives and heroes of fiction. Quentin Tarantino’s cinematic oeuvre rarely features characters whose worldview the audience would agree with, but we are compelled to watch and find out what happens to them.
Q: So you think Roland Recht can appeal to a mainstream audience?
A: I think so. I hope so. I’m not a Creationist myself and I enjoy writing about him. He’s a character who is so passionate about a belief that it’s become a fundamental part of his life. He also solves crimes for a living.
Q: He does get rather preachy at times. Was that a worry when writing it?
A: A little, but I had to stay true to the character. He’s reacting to the world around him. This isn’t an author trying to impose a worldview on the reader; it’s an author interpreting a character’s actions in the context of the story.
Q: He rails against people in the community who gossip and are judgemental about his girlfriend, yet he is very judgemental himself. Would you say he’s a hypocrite?
A: I’d say that judgment pertains strongly to theme. Yes, he’s not particularly self-aware at first, in that he dislikes the judgment of his girlfriend from the community yet he is also judging her, assessing whether he can have a long-term relationship with her, hoping her past won’t be an issue for him, without realizing that it’s a two-way street. His incredulity regarding certain people who may get away with murder is the overwhelming thematic touch-point, but yes, I explore his personal worldview when it comes to judging others too.
Q: It comes back to the Christian theme again.
A: Judgement is universal. Jesus had things to say about it, but—all religions or no religion—judgmentalism affects everyone.
Q: Why the name Roland Recht?
A: Well, I thought it sounded cool. It has a deeper meaning too, of course. You can Google it, or read the book.