Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Weekend with Steven James

This past weekend I read the third installment of Steven James' "The Bowers Files." I'll admit at the outset that I don't read a lot of fiction but I love this series. It all started with a simple two minute video presented at a sales conference for the first book in the series--The Pawn. I watched it and thought "If the book is anything like that I've got to try it." If that was the intent of the video it worked on me (great marketing). After reading The Pawn I knew I would finish the series--it was that good. The next in the series was The Rook and I was just as intrigued. Now comes The Knight (if you're thinking chess set you're on the right track) and I keep thinking "he can't keep up this pace and still make a great book" but he does! Now for those of you who read tons of fiction and say "this is nothing new for great fiction writers" I say, indulge me the moment. (Next time you read a commentary and get all excited I'll let you go on and on. But I won't hold my breath. I know, I know. . . it's not the same.) So, anyway, where was I. . .oh yea, I love these books. The main character is an FBI agent, Patrick Bower, who tracks serial killers and in the three books the killers have made Bower a target. Bower uses a fairly new method for finding the killer called geographic profiling. Even this fascinated me since James has done his homework and admirably integrates genuine elements of the field into the book without boring you with unnecessary details. A subplot in the book is his relationship with his stepdaughter (Tessa) which at first I didn't think I would enjoy but with each book I love her more and more (I think they call that "character development" and I like it!). She's sharp, witty, very intelligent and often helps with the case even though more often than not her help is unsolicited. I now can't imagine a book without her.

I'm not going to do a proper review of The Knight because I'm sure I'd give something away and spoil it somehow. My co-worker, Chris (a fiction guru), has promised a review as the release date gets closer which is August. I will say I loved it as much as the first two and I can't wait for The Bishop (summer 2010).
Before I go let me address two things which have been "complaints" about the series. 1) They are too violent or the violence is too graphic. This is probably true for some readers but I never found the violence to be gratuitous. Some of the scenes remind me of Alfred Hitchcock. James will bring you only so far and leave the rest to your imagination. Furthermore, any reader of the Bible will encounter violence--sometimes very graphic. If you find it too violent, that's fine, don't read books about serial killers. (See James' thoughtful response to an Amazon reviewer who gave The Pawn one star because of the violence.) 2) There aren't enough "Christian" themes. You know, frankly this was something I found appealing especially if by "Christian theme" is meant a formal presentation of the gospel. I don't think a great story needs to include a gospel presentation in order to be acceptable to Christians. In The Knight Bower wrestles with some serious ethical issues. The major one being should he tell the truth on the witness stand or perjure himself and ensure that a serial killer is not set free. This is a spin on the old truth telling versus life saving dilemma and James handles it well. Christian themes don't always need to carry a label or be attached to a Bible verse. The depths of evil (read: depravity) capable in the human heart are vividly portrayed in ways prose can never describe. The struggle of a father to connect to his stepdaughter (read: family values) is poignant and real. I contend the themes are there. You may just not recognize them at first.
Does it glamorize violence? Are we being entertained by the macabre? Some will no doubt find entertainment where it doesn't belong but I don't believe that is the intent of the author. The fact of the matter is The Knight forces us to face the reality of evil in ways we don't want to think about. Evil is not just topic for philosophy classes. "Fiction" only means the story is not, in itself, true. It does not mean the realities it describes are not real. (James will sometimes make comments which may seem outlandish but upon investigation are very real. Example, Bowers at one point says, "Besides, killers are a lot more memorable than the guys who catch them. Nobody makes FBI agent or police officer trading cards, but three different companies make them for serial killers." (40) Serial killer trading cards? Really? This is just fiction right? Think again.)
I commend this series to you. You should read them in order. I'll let you know when Chris gives her review. You can find her review of The Rook here.

What about the video that first hooked me? I still love to watch it. Here it is:

The book is due out this August. It will be trade paper $13.99. Price subject to change without notice.

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