There is nothing like watching a good psychological thriller. You know…the kind of movie that ends with such a twist, you feel the need to watch it again, with your newfound knowledge, and see how all the pieces actually fit together.
Well, The Knight by Steven James plays the same sort of mind game with your brain. This who-done-it, or --more accurately-- “who-is-doing-it”, intertwines the nominal details with the vital in a way that makes it hard to discern between the two. When you finally make it to the “a-ha!” moment, your mind races through the particulars in the story to see if it can make the revelation work with that last puzzle piece. I am always amazed and impressed with such complicated and clever plots.
Agent Patrick Bowers is an incredibly gifted Geospatial Investigator: a criminologist studying the timing and location of crimes. Working for the FBI in
, his unique set of skills led to the capture of a notorious serial killer 13 years prior. Thanks to his expertise, Special Agent Bowers is called in to investigate a new series of bizarre murders. Denver
With the help of other agents working the case, Bowers determines that the slayings are actually reenactments of a string of disturbing stories from a collection of tales written in the 1300’s. This discovery gives the murders context and, in fact, details on what will come next. However, even with this knowledge, the killer stays just out of reach, anticipating the FBI’s next move and literally using the agents as part of his macabre story. Agent Bowers turns out to be the unwilling star, and, apparently, the most sought after victim.
Using a variation of first person (Agent Bowers) and third person narrative, Mr. James weaves his suspenseful tale in real time. The character development brings into believable focus the juxtaposition of a man with a dangerous job who is also a loving stepfather and faithful friend.
Collectively, the suspenseful writing and intricate plot are all part of the “good”…quite good! Overall, an excellent mystery that keeps the reader guessing until the very end.
So, what of the “bad”? For me, the Patrick Bowers character, though very likable and human in general, comes off a bit too “Jack Bauer meets MacGyver”-ish. Always physically able to do about anything, always expediently able to maneuver around obstacles… at times it was over the top. I thought he might whip out a cape. He all-too-conveniently has an audiographic/photographic memory, which comes in pretty handy when he gets anonymous phone calls and can recall them word for word, or checks out a crime scene by the beam of a flashlight and remembers tiny, important details later.
So that leaves us with the “gruesome”. As a Christian author, Steven James certainly crossed the line at times into grisly voyeurism, apparently looking for some shock value (and getting it). Don’t get me wrong, I am not into prettying up sin and acting like the real world isn’t quite so ugly. However, I am not comfortable with reading in great blow-by-blow detail, the murderer’s pleasure in watching people die, or how he tends to eat certain body parts. These images often crossed the line into “too much information.” Though such details may be common in secular thrillers, there is an expectation in reading a story from a Christian Worldview that such in depth descriptions would be avoided.
While reading this, I was reminded of a time when my young, artistic daughter wanted to draw a picture of wolves tearing apart and devouring a deer. I explained to her that, just because she thought up the idea and was able to draw such a scene, it did not mean that she should. She had a gift from God and therefore had a responsibility to use that gift wisely and in a way that was edifying. She could certainly portray the story of wolves hunting their prey without showing the end result. One can lead an audience to the idea, letting their minds fill in the inevitable, without rendering every detail for them.
This is not to say that we all should live in a bubble and only draw or write about butterflies and rainbows. However, a Christian novelist, in my opinion, must hold to a higher standard than sensationalism for the sake of readership. There must be more worthwhile content than what the world has to offer. The Knight dished up a great, clean, psychological thriller and not much more. Though there was an excellent anti-abortion theme presented, the in-depth accounts of murder were not justified in any way but merely served to be gratuitous, and at times, repulsive.
I think Mr. James could have taken us into the mind of a killer without dragging us so far into its dark, insidious pit. Though I realize books are ultimately published to be sold, I hope in the future that Steven James and crew will remember whom their targeted audience is and tone down the horrific details.
Overall, the storyline and writing was cutting-edge and excellent. But there were times I just had to put the book down and shudder.