Sutter's Cross: A Novel
W. Dale Cramer
Bethany House, 400 pages, $12.99

In this author's commendable debut novel, a drifter with a checkered past shows up unexpectedly in the sleepy Appalachian town of Sutter's Cross and turns its church community upside down.

Real-life congregations will readily recognize Cramer's characters, from the stereotypical fundamentalist Orde Wingo, who rounds up a posse, to the gentle, elderly Miss Agnes Dewberry, who is quick to give the homeless Harley every possible chance.

Cramer's fresh writing has a muscular toughness that's balanced by the vulnerabilities of his characters and moments of genuine humor. Readers may find it difficult to follow the many points of view, and the theme of "greedy developer exploits sleepy town" has been done before. But many will resonate with Cramer's portrayal of the church's responsibility to needy people, and the importance of confronting the pain of the past.

Some passages should have been tightened or deleted, as when Jake Mahaffey and a hiker have a long dialogue in a café. But there are delicious moments of irony, including a wonderful scene involving the church's billboard.

The subtle symbolism and beautiful writing throughout make this novel a good candidate for repeated readings.

Cindy Crosby is a frequent contributor to Publishers Weekly.

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