Book Review: Never Without Hope

Written by Michelle Sutton
Reviewed by Nike Chillemi –

There’s something about Michelle Sutton’s Never Without Hope that kept me turning pages. Maybe it was because the author hooked me and got me to desperately want things to get better for heroine Hope Williams. But the author wouldn’t allow that to happen. Throughout most of the novel consequences keep piling up due to Hope’s sexual sin. It was as if every time Hope took a step forward, somebody dropped a proverbial safe on her head.

This novel goes where many fear to read, into the arena of male erectile dysfunction and what happens in an otherwise happy marriage when this medical condition occurs.

The novel opens with Hope is in a world of hurt. James, the husband she loves and desires has had waning desire for her for almost a year and their sex life has been nonexistent the past six months. Aching for affection in her marriage bed, Hope tires to communicate with James about the issue and he angrily rebuffs her. When she tries to seductively entice him back into the marriage bed, he actually pushes her, physically hurting her and humiliating her. After that, she is easy pickings for the extra-marital affairs she feels herself slipping into. However, Biblically, one could argue her husband had already broken their marriage vows by leaving Hope so bereft of affection in the marriage bed. Be that as it may, the author doesn’t in any way excuse Hope for her mistakes.

To her credit, Hope does not dwell on the speck in her husband’s eye, but rather, she fully focuses on the issue of her own sin. The author depicts for us the metamorphosis of a church going Christian wife and mother who has slipped from saint to sinner. She has failed not just her family, but her God. In fact, Hope fears her sin has become so deeply rooted and pervasive in her life that God cannot forgive her. She has been drinking from another woman’s well. Yes, Hope is sleeping with another woman’s husband.

The author skillfully moves Hope through a series of emotionally devastating situations to the point where she discovers God’s love, grace, and redemption.

If I’m going to be a bit nit-picky, I’d have to say at times I got a bit tired of Hope’s first person narrative. I would have enjoyed having the story broken up some, perhaps with a scene here and there in James point-of-view.

Even thought it was Hope’s story, I felt horribly for James. The man, so frustrated and debased by his sexual dysfunction, refused not only to discuss this with his wife, he also would not see a doctor. James suffers a heart attack and discovers his erectile dysfunction was a symptom of heart disease. His treatment is successful and he and Hope begin working through their trust, marital, emotional, and spiritual issues.

This novel falls squarely into the category of edgy Christian fiction. There are some explicit scenes. However, this book just might ease the pain of a woman in the throes of an affair and help her to find her way out of that bad situation. It certainly offers spiritual encouragement to any woman with an affair in her past. This novel encourages the reader to deeper faith.

Book Review: Back On Murder

Written by J. Mark Bertrand
Reviewed by Nike Chillemi –

This is the Christian crime fiction novel I’ve been waiting for. It’s intelligent and well written. Author J. Mark Bertrand knows his police procedure and has got cop culture down.

Main character detective Roland March wants back on murder. He’s kind of flushed his career due a dark depression he’s been wallowing in which has led to his apathy about the job. As result he’s been assigned a string of undesirable cases, none of them homicide. Even his old partner, once a close friend, wants nothing to do with him. Then he notices a detail at a murder scene the other cops have missed and that lands him squarely on the case. This is his last chance to redeem himself and resuscitate his failed career.

Roland’s instincts tell him this homicide at a drug house, missing it’s female victim’s body, is linked to a high profile missing person’s case, where the other young female victim is a church going good girl. Sometimes it seems as if he’s trying to make the pieces fit. Sometimes he might be hoping they fit to prove a theory of the case that will allow him to exact revenge upon his old nemesis on the police force.

I didn’t always like protagonist Roland March. He can be petty, mean, dense, and not above begging. Near the beginning of the story, something snaps inside him and he manhandles a very drunk woman trying to get into her car outside a bar he frequents. He takes her keys away and might’ve even saved her life, but his behavior was over-the-top. Later, it’s revealed what personal demons drove him to conduct himself in so vile a manner.

The novel is definitely edgy. The main character is not saved and doesn’t get saved by the end of the book. One of the murders has highly sexual overtones. One of the characters may or may not have date raped a girl and Roland does little to nothing about it. There’s tons of violence. More than a few scenes take place in a cop bar. The hero thinks about sex with his wife more in sexual terms than in a romantic manner…or perhaps it’s in a habitual way. The autopsy scene is graphic. All this adds up to edgy Christian fiction. But it’s a fantastic ride. A detective story reader’s dream comes true.

I’m glad this is going to be a series. I don’t want to see Roland March go away any time soon. I’ll put this book up against any secular crime fiction best seller. Though writing style and hero personality is different, the book is comparable to Michael Connelly’s long running Harry Bosch series.

What makes Roland compelling is his cop’s sense of righting a wrong on behalf of the victim. He particularly wants justice for the nameless, faceless girl whose body is missing, but who so obviously died in that drug house. While Roland obviously has a gazillion negatives to his personality, he can also be noble, brave, loyal, and doggedly persistent.

Roland March is not a spiritual man, yet he’s the perfect one, to objectively show how the secular world views the church. He’s saddled with a new female partner, a Christian, who’s easy on the eyes and he’s ogled her, only to be slapped down. He later comes to respect her as a woman, cop, and valued partner. Through his eyes, we meet the young missing person victim’s mother, a church worker who indeed lives her faith. We get to see her at first through his jaded eyes and then slowly see she’s the real deal. We marvel at her compassion, just as he does.

I highly recommend this book to crime fiction fanatics of every stripe, or anyone looking for a terrific police procedural/thriller. This is an intelligent, complex, gritty mystery and the writing is excellent. It’s a real page turner.

Book Review: The Hand of Fate

Written by Liz Wiehl and April Henry
Reviewed by Nike Chillemi –

The Hand of Fate is the second in the Triple Threat series. While I enjoyed the first book, Face of Betrayal, to my mind, the second book is better. Perhaps the authors simply hit their stride. The three main female characters are stronger and more developed in this book.

I love talk radio and this book catches the immediacy of the medium. Abrasive, opinionated, and self-centered, popular Portland talk-show host Jim Fate receives an envelope at the station and when he opens it, a powdery substance sprays in his face (possibly sarin), shortly thereafter killing him.

The members of the Triple Threat Club put their heads together to solve the broadcaster’s murder. Allison Pierce, a federal prosecutor, happily married and at the beginning of her first pregnancy, who is  also a practicing Christian. Nicole Hedges, the FBI special agent who is the lead on this case is a single mother, was brought up Christian, but is now an agnostic. Cassidy Shaw, a popular crime beat TV reporter feels she’s aging, is abusing prescribed sleep meds, has a tendency to hop from bed to bed, and had a relationship with the victim she’s trying to hide.

At first this appears to be a terrorist attack on the entire city, as sarin is that deadly. The downtown area is evacuated and there are injuries, heart attacks, and several deaths as result of the general evacuation. The pregnant Allison finds a tiny Hispanic girl who’s been separated from her mother and carries the child several miles to safety. After several hours of panic, medical personnel determine the substance is not sarin and the city is safe. Now the Triple Threat Club swing into action to find out who killed Jim Fate.

Fate, a combative, right wing, shock-jock, who we learn about posthumously, is a fascinating character. As the three women investigators look at the suspect list, they realize a shorter list would be one with people who liked the man.

Christian characters in this novel pray and seek solace in God, but the book is not preachy nor is there any heavy theology. A question that pops up in the last book is answered here. Why Nicole turned her back on God. While the novel is not too graphic, this is one of the scariest and most brutal parts of the book, which I can’t go into as it would be a huge spoiler. Cassidy continues to do stupid stuff, like combining a sleep aid with alcohol and falling asleep in a bathtub full of water — and her friends, like in the first novel, find they must rescue her…literally.

The identity of the murderer comes as a total surprise, as does the motive for the murder. One of the seemingly normal, career driven characters has an agenda, and well hidden underlying emotional issues.

I recommend Hand of Fate to murder mystery readers who enjoy novels that utilize contemporary, topical themes as sub-plots and back-story.