Writing Christian suspense isn’t easy. As someone who writes and reads it, I am constantly looking for good examples of others who do the same. The problem is that some writers get caught up in sharing the spiritual aspects of the book and forget to tell a good story, or they get you caught up in a suspenseful story, only to tack on a sentence or two of spirituality here or there. It has to be ingrained, organic, for it to work. It’s not just suspense; it’s Christian suspense.
I’ve also written biblical stories and seen the challenge of sharing those as well. My book Chosen was one I thought had a very good, very strong spiritual message to tell, but very few readers agreed. I didn’t get bad reviews, mind you. The problem was simply that people didn’t read it. A colleague suggested that I needed to take biblical stories and tell them in a contemporary setting.
And so when I was approached with the story of Jonah, told in a contemporary setting, I was intrigued. Here was someone who actually did what was recommended to me. In fact, Michele Chynoweth has a series of books that do that very thing. Here is the summary of The Runaway Prophet on Amazon:
Rory Justice leads a relatively normal life as a conservative, divorced, middle-aged ad agency account executive. He doesn’t like to rock the boat, but that’s just what happens when his retired FBI agent father, on his deathbed, asks Rory to hand-deliver a sealed letter to the Las Vegas sheriff’s department. The letter details plans by a new Islamic State mafia running the casinos to destroy the city with an underground nuclear bomb.
Instead of delivering the letter warning Vegas of its impending doom, Rory tries to run. He mails the letter and jumps onto a cruise ship, only to find himself entangled in a series of horrific misfortunes. Rory is eventually brought back to Vegas, where he ends up helping FBI and police investigators who have forty days to uproot the mafia and the bomb they’ve planted before it destroys Sin City. In the process, he finds himself confronting the very low-lifes he abhors―prostitutes, gamblers, drug addicts and thugs―and falls in love with police lieutenant Susan McAfree, a tough yet vulnerable officer on his team. But can this new-found love outweigh the hate he feels for the sinners she lives among and works to save?
Full of intrigue, suspense, and a little romance, The Runaway Prophet delivers the message that you can try to run from God’s call, but you can’t hide and that sometimes, by rescuing other people, God rescues you in the process.
I really, really wanted to like this book, and wanted the author to succeed, mostly because I wanted to learn from her example. And for the most part, it is miles ahead of many other Christian suspense novels that I have read. It has a concrete story, believable characters, pervasive spirituality. But I had two problems with it.
First, I never really connected with Rory Justice as the main character. And that’s bad. The author needs to make the reader care what happens to the main character, good or bad. In this case, a lot of it was Rory’s attitude in general. He wasn’t someone I could identify, relate and empathize with. And so I had a hard time keeping going in the story.
Second, and more importantly, I had a hard time with suspension of disbelief. There were multiple plot elements that were critical to setting up the story that I found myself just not buying. A Islamic State mafia? Really? Who uses the name mafia anymore? And why would they want to run the casinos only to turn around and destroy the city with a nuclear bomb? And wouldn’t they better use a nuclear bomb on a higher populated city? I also know a little bit about Las Vegas–the part beyond the Strip–and didn’t agree with the way the author stated a couple of times that residents of the city lived outside the city in the desert in hovels. Las Vegas has a pretty good suburb area. Finally, the resolution was anticlimactic; I won’t say how, but I was disappointed.
Like I said, I wanted this to work, I really did. I want to cheer on other Christian fiction writers. But this one doesn’t get an entire affirmative vote from me.
I give it three out of five stars.