Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Knight

By Steven James
Thumbs Up!

The Knight is the third installment in Steven James’ Patrick Bowers Files series.  The first two are The Pawn and The Rook.  (You’d definitely want to read them in order.) I’ve read a few of James’s more straight up Christian books, and I was curious how he would bring his writing style to a thriller book.

First of all, Steven James crafts an exciting, unpredictable tale.  His main character, Patrick Bowers, is an FBI expert on geospatial investigations.  Instead of thinking in terms of the killer’s motives or other common methods of profiling, he focuses on what the geography of the crime says about the criminal, where he lives and where he might strike next.

After a brief marriage, Bowers’ wife died of cancer, and he is left to raise her teenage daughter, Tessa.  Tessa is incredibly bright, but she is also self-centered and dour.  I appreciate the fact that she’s grieving over the loss of her mother, she has hang-ups regarding the father she never knew, and she has issues with Bowers, who is struggling to figure out the best way to raise her.  But, I find her character too grating to be sympathetic.  After having read the third book, she’s maybe starting to grow a little on me.

I like the fact that James doesn’t assume his reader is a fool.  By the time we start to think Character X might be a suspect, Bowers already suspects him.  He’s always ‘on’ and considering the possibilities of each situation.  He can recollect conversations verbatim, license plates, footprints and other details most people couldn’t remember.

I also appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to worry about inappropriate language or indecent sex scenes (although some of the crimes are sexually motivated).  While the books are definitely not preachy, we know that both Patrick and Tessa are struggling with faith-related issues.  They’re searching.

The Bowers Files books are not for everyone, however.  I’ve read quite a few mystery books in my time, but it’s hard for me to think of characters that I’ve encountered who can match Bowers’ villains for sheer evilness.  The torture some of the victims endure is mind-boggling.

There have been other authors I’ve stopped reading because I didn’t want to keep inflicting all of that gruesomeness on my psyche.  But, I think I’m going to stick with this series.  Having had a glimpse into James’s perspective on reaching out to non-Christians (especially in How to Smell Like God), I’m curious about where he’s leading his characters.

I can’t help thinking that James would wish libraries wouldn’t put the “Christian” label on the spine of books in this series.  (I have to admit, even as a 40-something, rather fuddy-duddy Christian, I tend to avoid ‘Christian’ fiction because I often find it boring.)  I’m guessing his target audience is more the young adult thriller reader rather than the usual Christian fiction reader. 

James keeps a few loose ends after each book, so his reader will be anticipating the next one.  There are also bigger questions which are keeping me interested: ‘Will good eventually triumph over evil?’, ‘Where will Patrick and Tessa be spiritually by the time we reach Checkmate?’ etc.

Just as his villains devise intricate plots against their victims, and just as a good chess player anticipates any number of his opponent’s future moves, so has Steven James crafted Patrick Bowers’ world and, I’m assuming, is planning a great culmination to the series.

If you think you can handle the graphic violence, you’d probably enjoy this series.  I would recommend that parents preview The Pawn before deciding whether or not to let your teenage children read these books.  The next installment, The Bishop, is due out this August.


  1. Nice review, Char. Are these books as graphically intense as the Patricia Cornwall books? I'm not sure I"m up for that intensity. I did read a few of Linda Fairnstein's books. They are one notch less intense on my personal "graphic intensity meter" so I could handle them.

  2. Well, Patricia Cornwell is one of the authors I was thinking of when I said I stopped reading some authors.

    To be honest, it's been so long since I read Cornwell I don't know if I can compare the two. I'm thinking these are probably at least as graphic as Cornwell.

    My above links to The Pawn and The Rook are to Christian Book Distributors' site. (I was having trouble with Amazon that day) It's interesting to read some of the comments. Some people totally loved the books and thought they weren't graphic at all. Others thought they were horrible and no Christian should even think of reading them.