Wednesday, January 23, 2008

CFBA feature today: Fallen, by Matthew Raley


Jim was at work when his eyes drifted to the coffee shop visible from his office window. An attractive woman driving a Mercedes pulled up to the curb . . . and Jim’s married pastor emerged from the car. When Jim delves deeper into his pastor’s world, will he be able to handle what he discovers? Is he right to suspect that Dave is having an affair? In the behind-the-scenes church battle that ensues, Jim is torn between duty to his church and a desire to show grace. A ripped-from-the-headlines drama of suspense that keeps you engaged to the last page.

Fallen is the story about Jim’s relationship with Dave—how Jim tries to do the right thing to keep Dave accountable, but finds the situation getting worse and worse. It’s also about Jim’s other relationships. Just as he discovers hypocrisy in Dave, Jim discovers his own sins against his wife and daughter.

The Book Link


Jim is the chairman of the local Baptist church and a bank manager. One day while at work, he looks across the street to the Bean, local coffee hangout. To his surprise, he sees Dave, his pastor, step out of a beautiful woman’s car, dressed nicer than he does in his church office on a workday. What could the explanation be? Is this woman his sister, an old friend, a counselee, a friend of his wife’s?

When Jim confronts Dave, Dave admits to a small impropriety, but brushes it off at first. Then, as Jim continues to dig, Dave confesses his marriage is rocky and he started confiding in an old high school friend. Jim is not convinced that this relationship is as platonic as Dave makes it out to be.

What Jim uncovers is bigger and more infuriating than he ever would have guessed. Can he do the right thing for his church and his pastor? And himself? Will the church survive this latest upheaval and be able to move on?

The subject matter in this novel is something that needs to be dealt with. Though fictionalized, I know that scenarios like this happen in real life to real people in authority. The author has rightly brought this to our attention so that we will be aware and ready to deal in a godly way with people who have fallen into sin.

I had a great interest in seeing how the story played out, so I began reading in earnest. However, it was really hard to get into. Long stretches of backstory and/or flashback had me skimming as well as long sections of rather stilted dialogue between two people. Both the narrative and dialogue seemed to stretch on and rehash some of the same ideas over and over. Often, I felt nothing was really happening except Jim questioning himself and questioning Dave.

Yes, the point was made that pastors should not be islands, shouldn’t be all-powerful. Some do take advantage of trusting parishoners and get away with a lot. On one hand we should not be overly judgmental, but on the other hand they should, as leaders, be held to a higher standard. I applaud the author for bringing out the fact that even pastors can fall into sin and be oblivious to the fact that they need help. And the lesson “there but for the grace of God go I” holds its own. In the end, some redemption did occur--the last few chapters were by far the best writing of the whole book.

I have always wondered whether a book like this would ever be published by a Christian publisher. In fact, I’ve toyed with the idea for years of writing a similar novel, one that exposed hypocrisy in the pulpit and worked to help maintain accountability in the pastorate. Because, you see, I’ve seen it up close and personal.

Several years ago, the church my husband served as Worship Pastor went through major upheaval because our pastor had, like the pastor in this novel, had an affair. Only in our case, it was with a woman from the congregation. A woman that had come to him for counseling because of her rocky marriage.

As time went on, his deceit went further. His affair led to a pregnancy and to an abortion that he paid for. Imagine our shock when my husband and I saw the young lady at a restaurant in town and she openly confessed this to us. She said he promised he would leave his wife and children for her when the time was right.

The man preached good, solid, sometimes fiery sermons. He lived the total opposite. How could such a thing happen? How would the church ever recover from something so huge, so blatant, so shocking? The sad fact is that that church has never fully recovered. Each subsequent pastor has stayed a brief year or two and attendance has dwindled to a mere fraction of what it once had. All because a pastor refused accountability, presumed himself to be a one-man show, thought he could handle everything himself. He fell and made a mockery of the Christian life.

Of course, these things can be redeemed. He can be forgiven and can change with God’s help. All of us sin and all of us are in need of God’s transforming power. The church, with God’s help and the people’s willingness, can move on and become a force for good in the community. But it is a long, tough road when a trusted leader betrays you. Those scars run deep and you never forget those events.

So when I read this novel, old emotions came over me and made me remember things I’d rather put away forever. I pray my experiences in such a church keep me always God-focused so I will not fall into sin and try to cover it up, so I will be aware of masks and secrets we all have. So I will be truthful but gracious when I run across something similar in the future.

God help us all.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

First of all, I have to say that I am ruined. Mr. James has totally ruined me. It’s like I have just finished off a bar of the best imported German chocolate. How could I ever go back to Nestle? Why would I want to? Will any suspense or thriller ever grab me and shake me and not let me go like this one? Will I ever feel this pulse-pounding, fingernail chewing, sickening, exciting feeling while reading a novel again? I just finished the book today and I think I’m going through withdrawal. I can’t believe the last page is turned and it’s over. I’m sad. What a shame it had to end.

What is all the hoopla about, you ask? Patrick Bowers, an environmental criminologist for the FBI, is consulting on the case of a lifetime. A brilliant serial killer is systematically murdering young women, leaving a chess pawn at each crime scene. But as piece after piece of the puzzle become available, nothing seems to fit. The sicko is always one step ahead of the good guys, taunting them and raising the stakes. Patrick’s recent widower status, estrangement from his stepdaughter, and having to work under an unpleasant former acquaintance escalate his stress level and create additional interest to the story.

The Pawn has a killer plot—complex and riveting, it had me guessing, reeling, sweating, and hanging on for dear life at the end of every single chapter. There is nothing not to like. My only warning is for the squeamish--the book contains several vivid descriptions of victims’ torture as well as post mortem details. The stark realism captured me and brought me totally into the story. I felt as if I was in peril myself, frantic for resolution.

And yes, Virginia, there is a spiritual element. The quest for faith and love run deep within the pages, and not only for the main character. At first glance, this may seem a plot-driven novel, since everything that happens is so paramount to the story. But you will definitely root for Pat, his daughter, and the other law enforcement officers. You will discover that even in the midst of certain evil, there is a God who exists and cares. One that will overcome evil, if not in the next few pages, ultimately.

For you suspense lovers out there, this frenetically paced drama will have you drooling for more. The Rook is the second book in the series, due out in a few months.

(This review has been cross posted on the LGG blog, and has been submitted to both The Christian Suspense Zone and Dancing Word Writers Network. Many will hear about this novel if I have anything to do about it.)