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When Emily Hsu, a young, forgotten druggy, goes missing, what soon unravels is an exploration of the human soul and the ways we try to connect to something bigger than ourselves. Patrick Coleman’s The Churchgoer is a modern-day noir mystery, sans the seasoned and grizzly detective. Instead, we’re treated to Mark Haines, an ex-pastor turned crass security guard who has turned his back on family, meaningful connections, and God. Though he no longer saves souls, he finds himself compelled to save the mysterious Emily who he feels some kinship for. Oftentimes, I felt like yelling at Mark for his innate ability for screwing-up his life, but I couldn’t help but feel some common ground with him; that this middle-aged man somehow embodies the weary, over-stimulated, and fed-up parts in all of us. Best yet, the story’s setting of San Diego was a delightful treat. A stimulating read through and through.— Nicholas
A LitHub Most Anticipated Book of Summer
"The Churchgoer is a wonderful debut novel from a writer with more than a few tricks up his sleeve.”--Los Angeles Times
A haunting debut literary noir about a former pastor’s search to find a missing woman in the toxic, contradictory underbelly of southern California.
“He was finished with church, with God, with all of it. But to find the girl, he has to go back.”
In Mark Haines’s former life, he was an evangelical youth pastor, a role model, and a family man—until he abandoned his wife, his daughter, and his beliefs. 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 he sees hitchhiking on the Pacific Coast Highway, hustles him for a breakfast and a place to crash—two cynical kindred spirits.
Then his co-worker is murdered in a robbery gone wrong and Cindy disappears on the same night. Haines knows he should let it go and return to his safe life of solitude. Instead, he’s driven to find out where Cindy went, under stranger and stranger circumstances. Soon Mark is chasing leads, each one taking him back into a world where his old life came crashing down—into the seedier side of southern California’s drug trade and ultimately into the secrets of an Evangelical megachurch where his past and his future are about to converge. What begins as an investigation becomes a haunting mystery and a psychological journey both for Mark, and for the elusive young stranger he won’t let get away.
Set in the early 2000s, The Churchgoer is a gripping noir, a quiet subversion of the genre, and a powerful meditation on belief, morality, and the nature of evil in contemporary life.
Patrick Coleman's writing has appeared in Hobart, ZYZZYVA, Zócalo Public Square, the Black Warrior Review, and the Utne Reader, among others. His debut poetry collection, Fire Season (forthcoming from Tupelo Press) won the 2015 Berkshire Prize. Coleman also edited and contributed to The Art of Music, an exhibition catalogue on the relationship between visual arts and music (Yale University Press with the San Diego Museum of Art, October 27, 2015). He earned an MFA from Indiana University and a BA from the University of California Irvine. He lives in Ramona, California and works at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UC San Diego.