The Ollie Chandler Collection by Randy Alcorn.
The Pacific Coast Justice Series by Janice Cantore.
Seeds of Evidence by Linda J. White.
Stress Test by Richard Mabry.
Back on Murder by J. Mark Bertrand.
These are some of my favorite books.
They are all mystery/suspense novels.
They engage complex themes with real characters, ask genuine questions of faith, and view this world through a solid Biblical perspective.
This article is my limping attempt to put into words what I feel after reading a book like that, to give you a glimpse into the pull of the story, to stir in you the desire to live beside the characters in a story.
Why do I read mysteries?
Mysteries tend to grapple with real issues, the kind that are both today's issues and man's eternal questions.
The mysteries, if properly done, confront sin as sin and call it so. The mystery looks deep into the way sin hurts people, cheats people, and ends life.
The sanctity of life can be taught through a mystery, a profound sadness over death, a burden for evangelism to the lost can be laid on the heart by a mystery.
And the wholesomeness, goodness, blessedness of life can be shown in full color in a mystery.
In a mystery, when we guess the subject wrong, we are reminded that our judgement is clouded. Appearances fool us, demons look like angels of light. We are reminded that the guilty can look innocent and that man's powers of deception know almost no bounds.
In am mystery, we often read of framings. The innocent set up to look like a criminal. Then we ask the fascinating question. How do you prove your own innocence?
And what if you don't trust yourself?
What if, like Ollie Chandler, you have been having black-outs and don't know if you could have killed the man, and the blood is on your clothes?
And what if, as you fight to prove your innocence before an earthly judge, you realize your need for pardon before the Judge of Heaven?
In mysteries we see the battle between darkness and light. We also see redemption in its most crystal clear, stunning colors.
Sometimes, as Linda White has pointed out, people question how Christians can write suspense...after all, it deals with such dark, gritty, fallen themes. How can a book with hard issues in it possible be fitting reading for Christians? How could it Glorify God?
A quote from Tony Reinke's Lit! says it best: "The soil of this world is sinful. We live in a world filled with disgusting acts of selfishness, brutality and abuse. This is because the world is populated with dark, sinful hearts- hearts like ours. Our world groans to be freed from the chaos of sin. And so do we. And the Gospel answers our longing to be freed from sin. Christian literature uses the sin-stained world as the soil where the green sprout of Grace grows."
As Larry Woiwode is quoted as saying, aslo in Lit! "If sin isn't mentioned or depicted, there's no need for redemption. How can the majesty of God's Mighty arm be defined in a saccharin romance?"
You have no idea how much it frosts me, to use Ollie Chandler's expression, to see Christians refuse to read J. Mark Bertrand's books, or worse, to say his books aren't Christian! Why? Because there is depth and meaning to them? Because depravity addressed in these books? Because, like life, they have glimmers of hope and not a perfect ending?
How is that not Christian?
How is being forced to think hard and confront sin as sin not Christian?
I confess, I read Back On Murder and didn't get all the complexities out of it the first time.
I won't get them all the second time. Or the third. That is what makes the book worthy reading!
A book that addresses powerful themes and accurately portrays the sadness and darkness and the faith and hope- those books are the reason why I read!
"Reading is not an escape from life, it is an exercise in living." So said Gladys Hunt, author of the book that introduced me to a Theology of Reading, Honey for a Teens Heart. She pointed out: "There are many other reasons to read. Read as a way to work through problems in real life; read as a way of celebrating your joys, read as enjoyment, entertainment, read because you love Beauty. Read to savor your memories."
And mysteries do that for me. They sharpen my mind and increase my courage by allowing me to put on the armor and try and be a Knight, like C. S Lewis said. In the mysteries I have read, they have allowed me to put on the kevlar vest and be an FBI Special Agent, a police officer in Las Playas, a Houston homicide detective. I follow the characters, and I learn from them.
Gladys Hunt asked where I would learn these things without examples. She wrote: "How can we understand honor or valor or courage unless we have sometimes seen these traits in someone's life? Good literature may so move the reader that it seems impossible to verbalize about it. The experience is what counts."
Honor. Valor. Courage. That is one of the main reasons I read mysteries. Because the characters are often pushed past human limits, mentally and physically. They work as a team, they cover each other, they give their all. They give me heroes to admire. And most often, the hero is quite unlikely, reminding me of the way it is in life.
Dr. Newman and Sandra. Roland March. Carly and Nick. David and Kit. Ollie Chandler.
In them, I see traits I want in my life. They think on their feet, they keep a level head, they find the truth, the are creative and brave. They keep calm and stay sharp. They are determined.
All traits the Christian needs.
Another reason I read mysteries is because the police procedural is the only kind of story I know that shows work being treated as a calling, a vocation. We see agents, police officers, detectives who view their work the way we need to, as part of our God Given purpose, with eternal results. They get justice, stop evil, and save lives.
It is a healthy thing to read of work like that, and the details given fascinate my mind. I love learning how evidence is collected at a crime scene, how officers are treated after a shooting incident, how a detective buys a hacksaw and cuts a tie-rod to see how the criminal would have done it. I love hearing about how the FBI tech specialists can put a GPS in an Ipod, and how forensic botanists can test acorn DNA.
I love being brought into the character's work, like the hospital Dr. Newman worked at in Stress Test or the newsroom with Jake Woods in Deadline.
And last, but not least, I have had the pleasure of reading mysteries where genuine love grew between characters, and made me rejoice with them along the way. In a fallen world we need the reminder that God's love heals us and that human love blesses us. In mysteries we see the love born of comradeship, friendship, and brotherhood.
We celebrate this. We see hope, love, redemption. We see it in these stories and we recognize it in our lives. It is like Tony Reinke says: "The best Christian novelists write from a Biblical worldview, one that is not afraid of digging into the soil of common human experience."
That is why I read mysteries. There is something epic in the mystery, in the way every emotion is drawn in and in the pull of the story.
I will leave you with another word from Gladys Hunt, the woman who helped me love reading.
"The Great Story of the universe can be told in many forms, and when it is told well it involves you and me, and makes us see that our lives are stories too. The stories always involve a view of truth and what we will make of the choices given us. A great novel can be a kind of conversion experience. We come away from it changed." Gladys Hunt.
To my favorite writers: Thank you for honing your craft, thank you for tending your gift. Thank you for writing.
Honey for a Woman's Heart: Growing Your World through Reading Great Books: Gladys Hunt
And Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books: Tony Reinke, They are both fabulous reading.