Monday, May 16, 2011

Nick of Time, by Tim Downs (Thomas Nelson)


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This is without a doubt one of the most entertaining books I've read in a long time. Storyline, writing style, characterization, message--it's got it all. I knew after two chapters that even if I hated the rest of the book, it was still well worth the cover price; a safe assertion, as I was certain that worst-case scenario would not materialize. And of course it didn't.

Dr. Nick Polchak is a quirky, single-track-minded forensic entomologist with a sardonic wit as dry as the months-old puparia littering his college professor's desk, his car, and his life. Uh huh, forensic entomologist--solving crimes one bug at a time. He and Raleigh Harmon would get along famously, probably be engaged by the end of their second week if they didn't kill each other by the end of the first.
Oops. Strike that last sentence. Nick's already engaged. You're safe, Raleigh.

Meet Nick's fiancĂ©e, Alena Savard. Just-as-quirky Alena lives alone on the top of a hill. Well, almost alone. She has 41 dogs, at last count. And she trains them. No, not like rolling over and playing dead, but rather like pinpointing where someone else has rolled over and really died. Fun stuff like that. Oh, and she's r-e-a-l-l-y good at it. One snap of the fingers and a subtle hand motion, and one of her dogs could probably finish typing this review faster and better than I can. (Okay, no wisecracks necessary...)

Nick's proposal of marriage to Alena shocked them both. And he's pretty sure that he really wants to be married. It's the 'pretty' part that gets him into trouble. The week of his wedding, when it appears that one of his friends and colleagues is murdered, Nick figures he has enough time to do some sleuthing out of respect to his friend and still be back in plenty of time for the ceremony. Alena is less confident both that he really wants to be married and that he will make it back in time.

So the stage is set for a rollercoaster ride of a tale that has you laughing out loud on one page (multiple times) and sobering under a subtle revelation of human nature on the next. A huge twist toward the end brings you to a screeching halt, gives you a moment to scratch your head in disbelief, and then plunges off at bumblebee velocity in a completely different direction with you in hot pursuit.

If you enjoy a great crime thriller laced seamlessly with insightful human interest, and one that is pristinely written for the genre and voice, there is simply no other option than to get this book. You just can't not read it. Go ahead. Try me. See if I'm wrong.

Note: despite what I said about being worth the cover price, I'm obligated to mention that Thomas Nelson sent me this copy free of charge to review. It was a good move on their part, because they've garnered at least one more Tim Downs fan who will be purchasing more of his books quite promptly.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Apostle, by Ed Lewis (Cape Arago)

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The first two installments to the “The Seeds of Christianity” series, Witness and Disciple, set the expectations bar high. Apostle clears it with room to spare.

It was like a long-awaited reunion with dear friends when Rivka’s and Shem’uel’s names first appeared in this, Mr. Lewis’ most recent historical novel based upon the first-century founding of the Church. Having fled persecution in Jerusalem, the family travels to Antioch, where Shem’uel becomes the fledgling congregation’s senior elder, their episkipos. A supporting cast of memorable characters emerges one by one as the Gospel takes root and grows in the unlikeliest of spiritual and societal soil. Historical figures like Simon Peter, Paul and Barnabas blend effortlessly in with the fictional characters as they transit Antioch on their missions to plant and nurture the Way throughout the known world.

A true delight of “The Seeds of Christianity” is not just the great storyline, but the historical setting the author so brilliantly depicts. Mr. Lewis has one foot planted firmly in an ancient history class and the other in a creative writing class. And he’s acing both courses. You feel the heat of the potter’s kiln on your face and the and cool of the wine grapes on your bare feet as everyday life in the ancient Middle East comes alive on each page. We help Paul construct his tentmaker’s loom and Hadassah knead her barley bread, all the while learning a stark lesson in what daily survival demanded of the first Christenoi. The joy of the lesson, though, lies in the tale and the prose, both of which Mr. Lewis crafts as skillfully as Paul did his tents and Hadassah her loaves.

If you like a good story enhanced by a good education, the “The Seeds of Christianity” series is a sure bet for your money.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Peace, by Jeff Nesbit (Summerside)

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Imagine a Joel Rosenberg and Tom Clancy collaboration, add intensity, and you have Jeff Nesbit's Peace.

A page-turner that blends a geo-political-techno thriller with human interest and spiritual introspection, Peace offers a realistic look at the fragility of the Middle Eastern balance of power, if it can be considered a balance. Sound dry? Oh my, no!

What carries Mr. Nesbit's work beyond a scholarly treatise in Foreign Affairs is a gripping storyline that spans the gamut from the pristine Oval Office to a squalid covert prison camp in North Korea, the ornate halls of the Kremlin to a dusty tribal village in Malawi. What's surprising in that lopsided contrast is just who exerts more influence over the outcome of the story.

If you like international thrillers that take you through scenarios seemingly impossible to resolve--but plausible to conceive--drenched in suspense and intrigue, you've got a treat in store for you in the pages of Peace.