Review of ‘The Affair’ by Lee Child

The-AffairLee Child, The Affair: A Reacher Novel (New York: Delacorte Press, 2011). Hardcover | Paperback | Kindle

If a whodunit is still a page-turner on the second read, it’s a good book. The Affair is a good book. Even though it’s my second time reading it, even though I knew how it would end, I still found myself turning pages late into the night until I finished it.

The Affair is set in 1997. Major Jack Reacher is an active duty soldier and an experienced investigator in the military police. In response to the Clinton Era peace dividend, the U.S. Army is winnowing the ranks, and Reacher’s own career is on the line.

He is ordered to investigate under cover the murder of a woman near an Army base in Mississippi. Members of a special ops group are considered suspects, but the Pentagon wants to make sure the blame is placed anywhere except on its soldiers. The case is political suicide, professionally speaking, but like a good soldier, Reacher takes it anyway.

And solves it. I won’t reveal the solution, but readers of Lee Child’s previous novels will now understand why Reacher left the service and began his peregrinations across the American heartland.

The Affair is the fifteenth novel in Lee Child’s Reacher series, but its events precede the other fourteen. You can read the series in publication order, starting with The Killing Floor, whose events are foreshadowed in The Affair. Or you can start with The Affair. Either way, you’re in for classic Lee Child—even the second time around.


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Review of ‘Literature: A Student’s Guide’ by Louis Markos

LiteratureLouis Markos, Literature: A Student’s Guide (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012). Paperback | Kindle

The Greek poet Archilochus said, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” By that standard, I am a fox. For as long as I can remember, I have tried to gain a generalist’s understanding of the world rather than a specialist’s. And I have tried to do this from within a Christian worldview.

So, you can understand why Crossway’s Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series is appealing to me. It consists of brief introductions to various academic disciplines—e.g., liberal arts, natural sciences, social sciences—written by Christian professors for Christian college students, faculty, and trustees. Though I’m well past my college years and not an academic, I still like to learn, so I have been reading my way through the series.

Literature by Louis Markos is interesting, though misnamed. It focuses on poetry rather than other literary genres, such as novels, short stories, and essays. It is valuable precisely as a primer for how to read a poem and why.

Markos divides his discussion of poetry into four topics: rhythm and rhyme (Chapter 1); words and images (Chapter 2); ages, authors, and genres (Chapter 3); and theory and criticism (Chapter 4). Throughout, he displays an appreciation of traditional poetic forms and meters as well as the interpretive techniques of the New Critics.

In the Introduction, Markos makes a general case for the value of literature in a scientific age, one that I resonate with: “We cannot live in such a vast sea of discrete, unassimilated, often anti-humanistic facts [i.e., facts disclosed to us by science]. We must make sense of the facts, must synthesize them somehow with what our race has learned about God, man, and the universe…literature is one of our best tools and guides for achieving this grand and humanizing synthesis.”

Amen to that!


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Review of ‘Siding Star’ by Christopher Bryan

Siding-StarChristopher Bryan, Siding Star (Sewanee, TN: Diamond Press, 2012). Paperback | Kindle

An astronomer discovers a supernova. A detective investigates a murder. A conspiracy grasps for control. Their stories collide in Christopher Bryan’s supernatural thriller, Siding Star. It is the first in a series of three novels (so far) featuring Detective Inspector Cecilia Cavaliere of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary. It is written self-consciously in the vein of Charles Williams’ novels and C. S. Lewis’s space trilogy. If you like those novels, you’ll like this one, though—as with any supernatural thriller—a willing suspension of disbelief is key to enjoying it. Will love or power win? Read Siding Star and find out.


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Review of ‘Vertigo 42: A Richard Jury Mystery’ by Martha Grimes

Vertigo-42Martha Grimes, Vertigo 42: A Richard Jury Mystery (New York: Scribner, 2014). Hardcover | Paperback | Kindle

Vertigo 42 is the twenty-third mystery novel Martha Grimes has written, and like the others, it is named after an English pub or bar, this one high atop a skyscraper in downtown London where the action begins. And like the others, Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury sleuths the mystery with help from his friend, Melrose Plant (the former Lord Ardry); his sergeant, Alfred Wiggins; and the cast of characters (in every sense of the term) from Long Piddleton.

The mystery in this case consists of four deaths: Hilda Palmer’s, a nine-year-old who died at Tom and Tess William’s house twenty-two years previously; Tess Williamson’s, who died five years after that; Belle Syms, whose death occurs near the book’s outset; and a man whose death occurs not long after and not far from Ms. Syms. With the exception of the man, who died of gunshot wounds, it’s not clear whether the women’s deaths were accidents, suicides, or murders.

Did I mention Stanley the dog, the “descendant” of Victorian-scourge Lytton Strachey, and Melrose Plant’s fabulous lifestyle? No, well, they’re all there, making for a plot that slowly unwinds and then twists…then twists again. If you’ve read Martha Grimes’ previous Jury novels, don’t miss this one. If you haven’t, start with The Man With a Load of Mischief and work your way through.


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Review of ‘Sharpe’s Story: The Story Behind the Sharpe Series’ by Bernard Cornwell

Sharpes-StoryBernard Cornwell, Sharpe’s Story: The Story Behind the Sharpe Series (West Chatham, MA: The Sharpe Appreciation Society, 2007). Paperback

Several years ago, a friend recommended the Richard Sharpe stories by Bernard Cornwell. I had been reading Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin stories, and my friend thought I would like the Sharpe stories, which also were set in the era of the Napoleonic Wars. I didn’t take him upon the recommendation then, but when I finally did, I realized how right he’d been.

Bernard Cornwell is a terrific storyteller, and Richard Sharpe is a terrific character. A rogue, but as Cornwell puts it in Sharpe’s Story, he’s “our rogue.” In this booklet, Sharpe describes the genesis of the character and the series that bears his name. He also explains why the books were written in the order they were, and how the successful BBC series influenced the stories. I’m reading the Sharpe stories in the order of the events they describe, not in the order of their publication, and I’d recommend others to do the same.

Sharpe’s Story also includes “Cakes and Ale” as an appendix. This is a short memoir Cornwell wrote describing the circumstances of his birth, his adoption by highly religious parents, and his eventual rejection of that family and their religion, together with his reunion with his birth family. As a Christian minister, I have to admit a bit of disappointment at Cornwell’s conversion to “atheism and frivolity,” as he puts it. Nonetheless, I appreciate Cornwell’s outstanding talents as a writer and plan to continue reading the Sharpe stories, and perhaps Cornwell’s other books. They are outstanding examples of how historical fiction should be written.


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Review of ‘The English Spy’ by Daniel Silva

The-English-SpyDaniel Silva, The English Spy (New York: Harper, 2015). Hardcover | Kindle

When the glamorous ex-wife of the heir to the British throne is murdered, Israeli intelligence reveals to British intelligence that the murderer was Irish terrorist-for-hire Eamon Quinn. Then it offers to put legendary Mossad agent Gabriel Allon on the case, and Allon brings on Christopher Keller—ex-SSA officer turned assassin-for-hire—for good measure. Turns out, Allon and Keller have a personal beef with Quinn, and when it’s personal, things get messy. Daniel Silva’s newest installment in the long-running Gabriel Allon series is fast-paced and full of plot twists. If international spy thrillers are your thing, this one’s well worth reading.

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Review of ‘What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an’ by James R. White

What-Every-Christian-Needs-to-Know-About-the-QuranJames R. White, What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013). Paperback | Kindle

What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an presents an introduction to and a critique of Islamic scripture (Qur’an) and tradition (ahadith) as they touch on matters pertaining to orthodox Christianity. Author James R. White is a Christian theologian who has engaged in debates with Islamic scholars. As befits a scholar, White’s tone throughout is measured and reasonable, and his arguments are nuanced and fair-minded.

The first three chapters introduce readers to Muhammad, the Qur’an, and Islamic monotheism (tawhid). In these chapters, and throughout the book, White’s presentation hews closely to Islamic beliefs that are shared by all Muslims (Sunni and Shia). He bases his description of Muhammad’s life and early Islamic history in the Qur’an and ahadith. In other words, he utilizes the same sources that Islamic theologians utilize. This leads Christian readers directly to the textual sources of the Muslim faith and assures them that White’s critiques are based on authoritative texts Muslims themselves acknowledge.

The next four chapters focus on areas where the Qur’an and ahadith either misinterpret or contradict orthodox Christianity—or both. Chapter 4 demonstrates that the Qur’an critiques a Trinitarian doctrine that no orthodox Christian holds. Chapter 5 demonstrates the fundamental contradictions between what the Bible and the Qur’an say about Jesus. Chapters 6 and 7 turn to the doctrine of salvation, showing that Muslims deny that Christ died on the cross to graciously atone for people’s sins.

When Christians point out these misinterpretations and contradictions to Muslims, Muslims respond by claiming that Christians have “corrupted” their Bible, either by misinterpreting or rewriting the New Testament. The final four chapters thus turn to issues of translation, literary sources, and textual criticism. These are the most technical chapters in the entire book, but they also repay careful study. They demonstrate that Christians have not in fact “corrupted” their Bible and that the textual transmission of the Qur’an is not as clean as Muslims commonly believe.

For Christian readers, the effect of White’s overall argument is a shoring up of the intellectual defenses of their faith in Jesus Christ against Muslim assaults on the same. For Muslim readers the effect may be to raise a troubling question: Can we trust an allegedly inspired book that makes false statements about other religions and rests on questionable textual foundations?

I recommend What Every Christian Should Know About the Qur’an to both Christian and Muslim readers, though especially the former. We live in an age of great conflict between these two religious communities. Rather than focusing on a small minority of terrorists who commit violence in the name of Islam (against the wishes of the vast majority of Muslims, by the way), we should focus our critique on the doctrines and practices that all Muslims hold in common. Doing so is less exciting, perhaps, than the evening news, but it is also more helpful to the long-term project of winning Muslim hearts and minds.


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