Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Gruesome...Review of The Knight by Steven James

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 Denver, 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.

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.

Available August 2009 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.