Autumn Brings a Fall of New LDS Fiction
By Jennie Hansen
September’s new literary offerings are wildly varied and too numerous for me to cover in one column, so some will have to wait until next month. They run the gamut from literary to popular fiction, edgy to off-the-wall, and they are published by a wide assortment of publishers.
Hunting Gideon by Jessica Draper is definitely not your usual LDS novel. The cover calls it cyberpunk and the book’s publisher calls it edgy. It’s not the usual edgy (which is usually an euphemism for bad language and/or sex). In this instance, it stands for something that is a combination techno-thriller and slightly futuristic science fiction adventure.
Some familiarity with computer jargon could be helpful to the reader in following the twists and turns of this page-turner. From the staring feline eye on the cover to the startling discovery that there are no chapter breaks in the entire book, Hunting Gideon takes the reader on a journey filled with unexpected surprises – including an ending that raises a few new suspicions. The author will be familiar to many readers as the co-author of Seventh Seal.
I’m not the most computer savvy person in the world; I don’t even speak the language, so I was dismayed by the first few pages of this novel. Thanks to Jeff Savage, I have a vague idea of what an avatar is so I recognized the allusions to a cat’s vivid chase through a cyber world as the personification of the female computer geek’s search tool in a race to catch a nasty worm sent by some villain to attack her computer system.
After the first few pages, I realized that even with my limited computer background, I was thoroughly engrossed in the story of a young LDS woman – a Sunbeam teacher, Sue Jones – who works for the futuristic FBI, chasing computer criminals who hack into various computer systems to steal money, sabotage something, alter or steal information, or just cause trouble. Her partner, Loren Hunter, is her exact opposite it would seem, cynical, a hacker the government would rather having work for them than against, and not entirely above subverting rules to get what he wants. But he has a soft heart, and forms a close friendship with Sue, whom he considers a bit nave. There are a few hints of a possible romance between the two, but it’s very low key.
The pair, through the use of their avatars and technical know-how go after a self-styled futuristic Robin Hood who himself Gideon, a cyberspace terrorist intent on destroying businesses, banking institutions, and computer giants to give their excessive profits to the poor. Gideon is also a terrorist, who quotes and misquotes significant bits of scripture as he pursues his deadly goals. Through a fascinating blend of virtual reality and the real world, the computer detectives race against time to identify and disrupt his doom program.
At first glance, I assumed this book would appeal primarily to computer nerds, but with the large number of LDS people who work with computers or who own personal computers, this book should find a wide audience. It’s cleverly written, fast paced, and unusual, and without the slightest peachiness, it gives some of the best answers I’ve seen to difficult questions about the Church. I would suggest that readers who enjoy mysteries and readers looking for something new try Hunting Gideon.
Hazardous Duty is a new direction by an established author, a favorite of many LDS fiction readers. I usually read books in my stack of “to read” books in the order they arrive, but I admit I cheated on this one and moved it to the top of the stack because the past month has been a difficult one for me and I wanted to read a book by an author that I knew would thoroughly absorb my interest. I wasn’t disappointed.
This is the first in a new three-book series by Betsy Brannon Green. It has no connection to her Haggarty novels and though it still has a southern flavor, it isn’t as pronounced. It’s faster paced and more technical than her Haggarty novels as well.
Savannah McLaughlin is the widowed mother of a six-year-old daughter who disappears under mysterious circumstances from her school in Washington D.C. After two months of intensive searching, the D.C. police and the F.B.I. are ready to assume the child is dead and move the case to the back burner. Savannah takes one more desperate chance to locate her daughter. She blackmails an Army general and former employer to gain the services of the military’s once elite extraction team led by her deceased husband’s partner. The partner, Christopher Dane, is currently in prison and was once her fianc. Their relationship is complicated and filled with anger and regrets.
Savannah still has feelings for Dane, but he is rude to her and bent on humiliating her. His goading places further strain on her stretched emotions, but she is determined to endure whatever she must for the sake of her child. Her boss at the agency where she works tries to help her and is lenient in allowing her assistant to stay with her to provide help and support, which is more than her deceased husband’s family is willing to do. She has never met them and they’ve never seen their grandchild. They didn’t even attend their son’s funeral.
Hazardous Duty is a complicated mystery where small details become major clues. Characters do not behave as expected, and they come from a wide variety of backgrounds, political viewpoints, and experiences. There are multiple mysteries involved and not all are resolved in this first book. Tension remains high throughout the entire book and the ending leaves the reader hoping the author will write fast to bring out the next book.
The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright is what his fans have come to expect – a sentimental journey concluding with an ironic twist. Jack and Laurel die the same night and are found the next morning by their employee at the bed and breakfast they own and manage. Their three adult children return home to make the necessary arrangements and hold a funeral. In the process they discover stacks of letters written by their father to their mother every week for the thirty-nine years of their marriage. As the grown children read the letters, they discover new insights about their family, themselves, and forgiveness.
The three children are Matthew, the oldest, who is involved in finance and business. His wife Monica is the stronger voice in their marriage. Then there is Samantha, a divorced would-be actress and mother of one, who has settled for being a small town police officer though her heart isn’t in it. The youngest, Malcolm, is running from the law and still very much in love with his old high school sweetheart, Rain. Rain would marry an egotistical man she doesn’t love rather than leave her precious hometown. Of the three, Malcolm’s character is the best developed.
I really can’t comment on copy accuracy as review copies are printed and sent to reviewers before the final copy edit is done. There are several instances where the point of view is switched, leaving the point of view character remembering an event he didn’t actually witness or watching himself in an unrealistic manner. Sometimes the head-hopping left me shaking my own head, either in bewilderment or amusement. The characters are fairly neutral characters, neither becoming particularly endearing nor stirring a hearty dislike. The resolutions are stronger on shock effect than reality. Romantics may find something slightly insulting in the romance angle resolution. This is not a specifically LDS book, though the author and publisher are LDS.
Readers who prefer philosophical discussions to action will like this book and it will carry a strong appeal to regional readers who have a soft spot for the Shenandoah Valley, Woodstock, and the surrounding area. The writing style is simple, but the story is not one designed for children or adolescents. Adults of all ages will relate better to the book’s message than those with little life experience.
This book’s strongest point is the message it carries of the importance of keeping a journal whether in the formal sense or by writing and keeping letters. It exemplifies why letters written to a loved one are one of the most effective ways to keep a journal. There are things expressed in letters that are far more difficult to say in person or over the telephone and they are a wonderful record not just of events, but of feelings, that linger through the years.
The Lost Sheep (My Unlikely Odyssey with Billy Blankenship) is written by Jeff Call, and though it does have a few sports references, it is not a sports novel such as Call has previously written. It’s a direct play on the parable of the lost sheep and possibly his best book to date. The cover and the simple language of the story might lead readers to assume this is a book for children. Older children might enjoy it, but the message is for all ages. I’d even recommend it for families to read together.
Kevin Russell is the eleven-year-old son of the ward Primary president and is frequently told he should be an example. That’s fine with Kevin, but his last-year-of-Primary class is composed of all boys, all of whom are preparing to receive the priesthood – except for Billy Blankenship.
Billy hasn’t even been baptized and he’s trouble wherever he goes. He turns Primary into a circus and is the source of an almost revolving door for class teachers who seldom last more than a couple of weeks. Some run after just one attempt to teach Billy.
At last a new, single sister moves into the ward and she’s called to teach the class. This teacher is different and doesn’t seem bothered by Billy’s behavior though she takes a drastic step that changes Kevin’s life. She takes him aside, explains the story of the lost sheep, and assigns Kevin to befriend Billy.
The good example child does his best, which lands him in the principal’s office at school on a regular basis; he gets in trouble with his parents, and even gets picked up by the police. Out of it all, comes a lasting friendship that continues through their growing up years, missions, college, and into adulthood. If it sounds a little too pat, let me assure you it isn’t. There are numerous twists and turns and an ending that is far from the expected.
There are some really funny lines in this story. There are also some deep truths approached from unusual angles. Call’s style is warm and personal and the story is well-paced. This one is a keeper.
Room for Two is a look back by Abel Keogh to a tragic time in his life. Therefore it isn’t entirely fictional, but is a somewhat autobiographical account written in a fictionalized form.
This is the story of a young man coming to terms with grief, guilt, anger, and profound loss. He steps into his apartment one day, calls out to his pregnant wife, and hears a gun shot. He’s left to wonder why she killed herself and ultimately their unborn child. He also has to deal with the knowledge that he’d been prompted three times that day to do something other than what he’d done and in each case, following that prompting might have saved his wife’s life.
The blood and horror of the situation leave him too shocked to apply the CPR that might have given their child a better chance of survival, and he has to live with that failure too. With Abel, the reader feels the anger and betrayal of a senseless death, the loneliness of the loss of a beloved companion, and the emptiness of a dream given no chance to live.
Through the year following the tragic death, Abel mourns, but he also reaches out for someone to understand and love. His search isn’t always wise – it’s even selfish at times – but he relentlessly pursues a course centered on getting on with his life that leads him to several kinds of relationships, the ability to forgive, and greater sensitivity toward others.
There’s a strong thread dealing with running that weaves through the book. This thread is the means of providing insights, but is interesting in its own right as Abel moves from running as the means of losing weight to keeping pace with a dedicated marathon runner. Some of Abel’s treatment of the women he dates is rather cavalier, and he’s a little too casual about physical contact with them, but overall the book is interesting and well-written. It also has a good grasp of the various stages of grieving. The theme sounds dreary, but I think most readers will find the story, with its relentless drive to move forward, uplifting and a source of hope.
Hunting Gideon by Jessica Draper, published by Zarahemla Books, 175 pages, $14.95
Hazardous Duty by Betsy Brannon Green, published by Covenant Communications, 293 pages, $15.95.
The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright, published by Shadow Mountain, 282 pages, $24.95.
The Lost Sheep by Jeff Call, published by Spring Creek Book Company, 178 pages, $13.95
Room for Two by Abel Keogh, published by Cedar Fort, 215 pages, $14.99