I've read other books by Coleman (I especially like his Mo Prager series) but this one isn't up to his regular well written story. There's something that feels forced in the story and the violence seems to be there like a book with predictable soft-core porn. Much of the book feels fatuous and the 'book within a book' doesn't add much to the overall story.
Ken 'Kip' Weiler was a wunderkin of the 80's whose talent went down in a spiral of drugs, alcohol and sex. After his first book went speedily to the top of the literary world, his next five spiraled like a WW2 fighter with its' tail on fire. His life crashes and at the start of the book he's been teaching writing at a community college for the last seven years. All his has left from his fame is a red Porche 911. A student brings a gun to class and Kip prevents him from going 'postal', all of a sudden he has his second fifteen minutes of fame.
From thereon the book takes some strange and in places, implausible turns. I wasn't riveted to my seat. In fact I had to fight through the boredom just to finish the book. Weak showing from a usually fine author.
"Gun Church", from Reed Farrel Coleman (author of the Max Praeger series) presents us with a character, Kenneth "Kip" Weiler, that has few redeeming qualities. A former literary wunderkind, Kip has self destructed through the use of cocaine and womanizing. Rock bottom for him is teaching creative writing in a third rate community college in the small mining town of Brixton, New Jersey. His students are the kind that see no possible future for themselves. This all changes when one of his students holds the class hostage at the point of a gun. In a very noir moment, Kip remembers that he wrote this scene in one of his books. He grabs the gun around the cylinder, and saves his students. As a result, Kip is a local celebrity. He's on the morning talk shows again, and is offered inclusion into a literary retrospective tour, featuring writing friends from back in the day. Which is nice (and potentially profitable), but he also knows that he is only there because of his recent celebrity. Nothing has really changed for him.
Doesn't this sound like a great story line? It really is, but the first 60 or so pages of the 196 page book are wordy and, for me anyway, a bit disjointed. Were i simply reading this book for pleasure, I would have set it down and not gone back to it. But I was reviewing it, so I had to finish it. I did, however, put it down, then read and review another book that I connected with in a much better fashion. When I came back to "Gun Church", it didn't take long for the story to find its legs, so all was not lost.
Before this happens, Kip spends a lot of time sitting by himself, trying to start a new book, but unable to even put the first word down. After he saves his class from the hostage situation two of his students come to play a very important part in his life. Renee, a beautiful young woman, convinces him to attend a strange cult meeting at an abandoned military base. When he gets there, he finds Jim, a young man who idolizes Kip and his writing.
Jim and Renee take Kip into a whole other world, ruled by guns, bullet-proof vests and protective head gear. And gun fights. There are rules, of course. And Jim is the one that seems to be making them up. But that is okay, because Kip is starting to feel alive again ... a feeling that he has not had for a very long time.
Being a writer, Kip begins writing again, using the backdrop of the "Gun Church" and the diary of an Irish hit man that he was given while on a writing assignment in London. A lot of similarities between Kip and the hit man, as the hit man feels that the need for his type of skills is running out, and that he may no longer have a life as he has known it. Kip titles his book "Gun Church". One of the interesting thin gs about this book is that Coleman intersperses bits from "Gun Church" into the main story.
No one in this book seems to be able to retain a relationship, be it friendship, romance, or career. They are all flawed to the point of no return. But then, that may be why this book is called a hard boiled mystery! Also, narcissism at its finest with both Kip and Jim. Very surreal!
Although wordy, the plot does hold together. The book is written from a singular point of view - Kip's. Everything is seen through his eyes. If you like the hard boiled mystery genre, you might want to take a look at this book. If you are looking for finess, then give it a pass.
There was pretty much of a male adrenaline rush throughout this story. But there were no feelings of love by the central character for anyone else but himself. Our main character is named Kenneth "KIP" Weiler, and he is a has-been writer teaching creative writing at Brixton County Community College somewhere in the coal mining region of the Garden State. Actually, I wasn't aware of coal mining as being a thriving enterprise in New Jersey, but be that as it may.
Kip becomes the local celebrity and hero when he stops a deranged student in his class from causing an episode similar to Columbine or VA Tech. This causes Kip to revel back into the roll of being worshiped as he was when he actually wrote novels that sold before he used way too much coke and alcohol, thereby shortening his writing career by decades. He is worshiped by one male student in his class named Jim and literally adored by the prettiest girl in his class and we are lead to believe at the entire school or region, whose name is Renee Svoboda [it seems that Slavic names are a major feature of this story for some reason]. However the juvenile, misogynistic, and narcissistic Kip thinks Renee is as pretty as and fairly well resembles the girl on the St. Pauli's Beer label so he persistently refers to her as the or my St Pauli's girl throughout. Obviously Renee wasn't a strongly feminist type or she might have taken an affront to that appellation. At the same time and for reasons only known to himself, Kip is still in love with his ex-wife named Amy, who he does call Amy, although he describes her as having somewhat ordinary physical attractiveness and not much of an athlete in the bedroom at that. In fact she compares unfavorably to Renee in almost every way imaginable, but he still has a thing for her, especially if Renee wasn't within stroking distance.
Due to Jim's hero worship and Renee's adoration, Kip is asked to join their bizarre handgun toting, role playing quasi-religious group at the Gun Church. This gun toting group of psychopaths and their antics do take a big leap of faith in the suspension of disbelief category, but if you can make that leap, then you will like the story, especially if you are into misogynistic hero types. There is and abundance of gun play and several murders all brought together at the story's end. There were quite a few good one liner's in the book, with my favorite coming from page 94 where the characters are talking about hunting and prey. "[A] sport's only a sport when both sides know they're playing."
Overall this a fast paced novel with good story development but with a very unlikeable central character. That being said and accepting that fact I would recommend it for this genre.
on March 28, 2016
Mysterious Book Report No. 87
John Dwaine McKenna
I wasn’t sure about reviewing this week’s MBR after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and elsewhere. But after thinking about it for a while and seeking advice from friends on both sides of the issue, I’m going ahead with it. Some may see it as insensitive on my part, and I’m prepared to take the heat for it, while pointing out to everyone that simply ignoring the problem will not make it go away. Neither will a knee-jerk reactionary piece of legislation passed in haste and regretted at length. I hope time and grief will allow cooler thoughts and a more rational response . . . but with the Confederacy of Clowns that We, the people, have running the circus in Washington, D.C. which we call the United States Congress . . . anything is possible.
Without further preamble, here’s Mysterious Book Report Number 87. It’s a real, honest-to-God walk on the wild side, and one of the most thrilling novels I’ve read in a long, long time. The author is so damn good, I can’t decide whether to hate or idolize him for his talent. But one thing is for sure . . . this one’s like being in a 90mph car chase down an icy mountain road!
Gun Church by Reed Farrel Coleman savages the drug and greed-filled ’80s with paragraphs like this one on page twenty-seven:
“It was late. Then again, late was a relative concept. Back in the day, I’d just be firing up the engine about now and the brittle blondes with their vampire complexions and C-note nostrils would just about be rising from their cocaine coffins. Here, “late” is defined by the local news.”
The speaker is the first-person protagonist, Kip Weiler, once an up-and-coming wunderkinder, a talented, respected writer who destroyed his once promising career and marriage with illicit sex, drugs and alcohol. Now, he’s stuck in Bruxton, as a creative writing instructor at a tiny community college in a place where the principal products are “bituminous coal, babies and black lung disease.” It’s where, “When the wind blows just right, it smells like Christmas trees being hot-dipped in roofing-tar.” It’s a perfect place for a man without hope . . . because it’s a place with little or no prospects besides death and boredom. Then, Weiler performs a heroic act and saves his class from a lone student gunman. He’s temporarily thrust into the national spotlight again, his writing reignites itself . . . and he’s inducted into a cult he calls Gun Church. After becoming romantically involved with a student named Renee, a woman he calls “The St. Paulie Girl,” and a twenty year-old student named Jim Trimble, nothing in Kip Weiler’s life will ever be the same. Just as hope reasserts itself and his writing career is possibly resurrected, the allure of Gun Church draws him ever deeper into the dark side. Like that high-speed chase over an icy mountain road, the plot twists and turns and cliff-hangers keep coming at you like strobe-lights until the last word of the last sentence on the last page. One of the most interesting, best plotted and intense thrillers I have seen and read in years. I think I’ll go find the rest of Mr. Coleman’s novels and read until I have blood running out my eyes! Awesome, is all I can say.
Before reading "Gun Church," I had never heard of Reed Farrel Coleman, but evidently he has quite a reputation in the mystery field. It's well-deserved, I'm sure. "Gun Church" struck me as deeper and more introspective than the typical mystery (not that that's what this is). I have been an aspiring author for many years and at several points in the book I thought, "That's brilliant. I would never have thought to include that. How does he do it?" It was both inspiring and frustrating at the same time. Whenever I had to take a break from reading, I found myself wanting to get back to it as soon as I could. However, there is one element of Gun Church that really bugged me, repeatedly.
(I realize that some readers will not have noticed this. Most won't care. And I'm fully aware that I'm inviting unhelpful votes by focusing on this, but it's a risk I'm willing to take.)
I hate to be obsessive about nomenclature, but you would think that this renowned mystery author--particularly one whose book was born of a comment between two friends at a "weapons demonstration" and whose knowledge of firearms appears otherwise solid--would know the difference between a "clip" and a "magazine." In fact, I thought it was going to be addressed in the story. It made sense that a New York writer would ignorantly refer to a magazine as a clip, so when Weiler says "clip" to gun expert Jim, I fully expected Jim to correct Weiler's error. No such luck. And Weiler (that is, Coleman) keeps calling them clips all the way to the end of the book. None of the book's editors or advance readers thought (or knew) to correct this? Irritating.
That aside, this is a very good read, particularly for fans of New York literary fiction of the 1980s. I recommend it.
Reed Farrel Coleman is the author of fourteen novels, including three series books, among those the seven terrific Moe Prager books, This is his third standalone, and it is a beaut. As good a description of "Gun Church" as any would be contemporary noir, with the large quantities of violence and sex that the term implies. But the surreal world created in these pages is less easily classified.
"Kip" Weller, once a boy wonder who produced three hugely successful novels with the attendant fame, has fallen far in thirty years. His fame, his career, his money and his marriage are all now in the past, and after more than one interim stint as a visiting teacher at Columbia, for the last twenty years he has been teaching English at Brixton County Community College in a little mining town. Then his life totally changes again as he stands up to a deranged student with a gun, saving the lives of the students who had been taken hostage. And then changes again soon after, when Kip is introduced, one might even say, inducted by Jim, one of his students and an ardent and devoted fan, into a group of "gun junkies" who meet regularly in a venue that they call their "chapel," a fitting place for the virtual worship of guns implied by the book's title. Soon Kip gains a certain proficiency not only from his `meetings' at the chapel, but also from his and Jim's daily sessions of shooting practice in the wood outside of town.
One could almost say Kip becomes transformed by the ensuing rush that becomes almost a new addiction, after the dependence on drugs, alcohol and sex that typified his prior life in New York. Having once described himself as "a bitter, talentless, middle-aged boor," he becomes so thoroughly divorced from the man and the writer that he had been that he refers to his former self in the third person. One outcome of his new obsession is that, for the first time in years, he is able to really begin writing again, a novel that had been limited to seven incomplete sentences, and he instinctively knows that the work is the best he has ever done. His protagonist is based on a man he actually met, a killer for hire at the time of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, who had given Kip a notebook fully describing his life as such, in essence the biography of a murderer. Using his new-found "hobby" and fellow church members in the book, at a certain point Kip is not sure where his creation ends and he begins [or vice versa]. To say that the results are successful is as true as to say that they are also disastrous. I would advise readers to make sure they have nothing urgent awaiting their attention when sitting down with "Gun Church;" for this reader, dinner was a couple of hours late after I started the last third of the book - - I simply couldn't put it down. Highly recommended.
Kenneth James "Kip" Weiler, once one of literary tyros of the 1980s, has been reduced to teaching creative writing in a community college in Brixton, a mining and lumber town, to students with no future. That all changes when one of his students holds the class hostage at the business end of a Colt Python. Actually remembering a scene (eventually cut by his editor) from one of his novels, he stops the hostage crisis by grabbing the gun around the cylinder, making it impossible to use and giving the SWAT team time to kill the student.
This launches Reed Farrel Coleman's GUN CHURCH.
Kip again becomes a celebrity, making the rounds of the morning talk shows, to the point where he is a last minute addition to the 1980s literary retrospective tour featuring his confreres Bart Stanton Meyers and Jake McNulty (read Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney).
Kip is no longer a self-destructive coke-addled womanizer; two stints in rehab and a downwardly spiraling academic "career" have merely left him a burnt out shell incapable of writing. He can't get past seven opening lines to a book he desperately wants to write.
Two of the students, held as hostages, Jim and Renee, reel Kip into a strange cult, a church where rituals surround the use of handguns. Bullet-proof vests and protective headgear set the stage for a series of gun fights, and Kip replaces the high and rush of drugs with an equally addictive sensory blast from facing someone across thirty feet of ground and shooting at them while they are shooting at you. He becomes proficient with a number of handguns, taught by Jim Trimble, who borders on an obsessive worship of Kip the writer. Kip also, becomes sexually involved with Renee, who awakens a shred of feeling in his heart.
Kip also begins writing again, a book based on his experiences with the church and drawing from a handwritten diary of an Irish hit man, passed to Kip while on assignment for a magazine in London. McGuinn, as Kip dubs him, is an IRA assassin who, with The Troubles waning in the 1980s, realizes that his usefulness and life are quickly drawing to a close. New book contract in hand, reprint rights sold, things are looking up for the "Kipster". The title of this book written inside the book, GUN CHURCH.
And then the world changes. Ultimately the book is about narcissism, the overarching theme of the ocean of books penned by the 1980s wunderkinds of literature. Coleman does a great job of putting these books and the times in perspective. Every character in GUN CHURCH is flawed to the point where the reader can root for no one. Jim's obsession turns violent, Renee deceives, ex-wife Amy loves the memory of bad-boy Kip rather than the more mature modern day version, and Kip...well, it's all about me all the time.
Coleman, the author of the fine Max Prager series, has written a real page-turner. He keeps the tension at a fever pitch nearly through out the entire book, no mean feat at nearly 400 pages. He stretches credulity in a couple of spots, and the serendipity that launches and then ends the book might raise an eyebrow, but all in all, a fun and entertaining read.
on December 19, 2012
This started out well and hooked me, but are folks in rural America so bored they'll shoot at others in their community and allow themselves to be shot at just to feel alive?
And is law enforcement so incompetent in rural America that people disappear, never to be heard from again and no one investigates?
The opening scene where a professor hands back a creative writing paper and the student pulls a gun, perhaps not thrilled with his grade, is every instructor's nightmare, but the rest of the book went downhill for this reader. Still I have to give the author credit: I bought the book and I read it, although I skimmed some of the hard-to-take death and destruction in the end.
Maybe the author is onto a unique American quality: how much we love guns, because this novel is a catalogue of them.
on March 11, 2015
Quit reading. This story starts off full of self-pity and anger which doesn't interest me.
The following line is excellent:
I achieved what all artists dread: I had outlived most of my money and all of my talent.
Not interested in finishing.
Remember this is my personal opinion and does not reflect on the author.
on October 31, 2012
I have never been able to warm up to Reed Farrel Coleman's 'Moe Prager' novels but plenty of people do like them. I ordered this because of its focus on a new protagonist and because of the gritty premise of firearms being exalted to the point of being a religion. The book starts with strong writing as the creative writing teacher formerly known as 'The Kipster' confronts a murderous student who threatens his class in the backwater community college where he probably is finishing his career. He demonstrates a highly useful fact he picked up for a past novel about the mechanical workings of a Colt Python revolver and saves the class. Two of his class members turn out to be members of the 'Gun Church', a cult that celebrates firearms as being purposeful and beautiful creations. The strongly imaginative writing continues as The Kipster attends a meeting of the 'church.'
After this is where I sign off: the author himself has stated in an interview that he doesn't read many books because he has seen too much of how they are put together to beguile the reader and his attention to the story gets derailed by technique. I found a similar problem in this book: The Kipster has a 'Beatrice Figure' (like Dante's famous muse) in his ex-wife Ann, who continues to be his femminine ideal. A voluptuous young blonde woman in his current class becomes his redeeming Madonna, resurrecting his creativity by performing oral sex on him. At this point, I felt that the plot read too much like a Middle Aged Male's wet dream. I began to skip ahead to see where it all went...
Once again, I concluded that Coleman's book would find plenty of fans...I would not be one of them.