In the Mail

–> For the Dogs by Kevin Wignall

From Publishers Weekly

In this slim, fast-paced page-turner, Wignall returns to one of the themes of his well-received first novel, People Die—the sympathetic hit man who has, if not exactly a conscience, extended internal considerations of the moral implications of his trade. Stephen Lucas, a recently retired, emotionally stunted hit man, emerges from his Swiss hideaway as a favor to old friend Londoner Mark Hatto, who hires Lucas to surreptitiously guard his daughter, bright, extroverted Ella, while she’s vacationing in Italy with her boyfriend. After Ella’s entire family is murdered, Lucas foils several serious attempts on Ella’s life, and the two of them form an odd, almost familial relationship. The boyfriend soon drops out of the picture as the hit man reluctantly helps Ella exact revenge on those who killed her family.

There’s plenty of action, but it’s the twisting, turning, complicated relationship between Ella and Lucas that forms the core of this compelling novel. Most popular genre writers allow and even encourage the category elements—action, adventure, suspense—to subsume the literary ones, but Wignall concentrates instead on the questions of character and motivation that make for a deeper reading experience. The names le Carre, Simenon and recent British mystery author Mark Billingham come to mind, making this a blend of old and new masters wrapped up in an original, finely hewn effort.

I found People Die to be thought provoking and entertaining and have planed on reading For the Dogs for some time, but I just never seem to get around to it. I have even checked it out of the library on a couple of occasions. I decided that this summer would be a good time to finally get it done, so I bought a copy and added to the TBR pile.

–> Madman by Tracy Groot

From Publishers Weekly

Groot’s well-paced, beautifully written historical novel begins in the tombs of Kursi in Palestine on the Sea of Galilee. The story focuses on Tallis, an Athenian servant and scholar who has come to Hippos to learn about the fate of a Socratic academy his master has assembled and bankrolled. As he pieces together cryptic, horrifying details of the academy’s dissolution, Tallis finds himself drawn to the owners and staff of the inn where he is a guest. Groot reveals the secrets of the lost academy as well as those of the innkeepers gradually and with virtually no contrivance. Important moments, such as the attempted rescue of a little boy, unfold with understated suspense, which is a delightful departure from the typically tedious, telegraphed and overplayed plot turns in the bulk of contemporary faith-based thrillers.

Perhaps most gratifying about the novel is its subtle Christian message; all but the last few pages take place during Jesus’ ministry but before the characters have encountered him. Groot depicts these characters as good souls hungering for a greater good with which they might fight the almost overpowering evil forces sucking the life out of their community. Jesus’ miraculous entry into their lives provides a satisfying and believable conclusion to this entertaining and compelling book.

I have never really read much “Christian Fiction” and decided it was time to remedy that. So I asked Dave over at Faith In Fiction to offer some recommendations. This book and the one below are two of the ones on his list. The plan is to read them both this summer. I will be sure to report back on what I find.

–> River Rising by Athol Dickson

From Publishers Weekly

When, at the beginning of this novel, Rev. Hale Poser arrives in Pilotsville, La., the story appears to unfold in an all-too-familiar way: a stranger of humble means comes to a Southern town, scandalizes it and, in true Christ-figure fashion, changes the lives of everyone there forever. However, a series of twists and surprises quickly pull the narrative into unexpected territory that is at once entrancing and painful to behold. Set during the great Mississippi flood of 1927, Dickson’s novel does not simply explore racism, faith and poverty, but somehow inhabits them, mostly by way of Hale’s journey.

Told from the perspective of several characters, Hale’s first days in Pilotsville—where readers quickly learn he has come to find the parents he never knew—reveal something close to utopia: black and white residents working and living together congenially, and almost equally, while the beneficent white man who essentially owns the town keeps all the ugliness of Southern racism at bay. Sadly, nothing is quite as it seems, and the miracles, revelations and moments of despair that make up the bulk of this book lead its characters and readers to some disturbing conclusions. Atmospheric, well-paced and powerfully imagined, this novel is reminiscent of Octavia Butler’s Kindred and deserves similar readership and respect.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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