If you've ever walked through the Christian fiction shelves of a bookstore, you've noticed that the majority of the books are romance novels. Usually historical. I don't know why. But as I've said in previous blog posts, I don't usually read much romance. I prefer sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, action.
For those reasons and more, I was excited to pick up Jim Laughter's recent serial killer thriller, The Apostle Murders.
The Apostle Murders tells the story of a new FBI agent, George Benjamin, as he helps track down a serial killer who is repeating, to the best of his ability, the martyrdom of the original apostles. The concept is a great one. Jim Laughter is Oklahoma born-and-bred and he knows the Bible belt. He also knows the Bible and early Christian tradition, and he weaves it all into an interesting story.
The beginning of the novel starts out strong. Chapter one hooked me right off the bat. And as the story continues, I kept reading without losing interest. It's true that the plot follows a somewhat predictable trajectory, but that is part of the nature of this type of story. After all, it's about a serial killer and the feds who are trying to track him down. You can see where that's going to lead. The question is, how well was the plot executed?
The answer: It was executed well enough to keep me reading. But there is room for improvement in future novels.
The scenes involving the victims and their deaths were particularly poignant and tense. In fact, that's where the story really shined for me. And that's a good thing, because the heart of the story is the killing that drives all the action forward. The killer is committed to killing, of course. But he's also conflicted. That was fascinating.
The characters were mostly believable, although they might have been developed a little further. As it was, there were some character interactions that seemed unlikely to me. George Benjamin is black and young, and he works with an older, white southerner who seems just a bit too casually prejudiced to be a respected FBI agent. But it's possible I'm looking at this with a northerner's eyes. Bottom line: I wanted to know more about Benjamin and the other agents, and I wouldn't mind reading a sequel that tells me more about these men and women in more depth.
I found the serial killer more believable, although I had a few questions about his motivations, wondering how a man of his age suddenly commits such brutal murders. The apostles were not killed in gentle ways. Their deaths were ugly. And so are the deaths of the serial killer's victims. The only explanation offered is that the serial killer feels he is being called by God to do it. Yes, I can believe that, if it is a sign of mental problems.
But serial killers usually start killing at a much younger age than this character does, with signs of sociopathy presenting in childhood. We don't get a picture of the serial killer's childhood. We do know that he is unhappy with contemporary Christian churches, and we know that his wife recently died. Is he suffering from a dissociative disorder due to his wife's death? Does he have a form of dementia that leads to violence? Perhaps he has a brain tumor. It just seems hard to believe a former pastor, even an old-fashioned, judgmental one, would go off the Christian wagon to such a drastic extent that he not only kills, but kills in the most horrific ways. I wanted to know more about what was driving him.
My only other pet peeve is that the point of view switches from character to character within the same scene. That's a no-no. Point of view should be tight on one person from start to finish of a scene. When you write that way, it forces you to convey what is in the heads of the other characters through more creative and sensory means, such as how a character tilts his head when angry, or the crinkling of his nose in distaste. This helps put the reader more immediately into what is happening.
Still, Jim's writing is good enough, in itself, to keep a reader reading. He knows how to end a scene on a cliffhanger. And he works his concept fully, which is the thing that really sells this book. A crazy Christian serial killer, being tracked down by a Fed who knows his Bible. Clever. You want to read it, don't you? I did. And as I said, despite the issues I noted, I wouldn't mind reading more about Agent George Benjamin. I hope to see more books like this from Jim.
I also liked the way Christianity and the Bible are woven thoughtfully into the book, rather than being forced or preachy. Rather than focusing on converting someone to Christianity (which seems common in Christian romances), Jim's characters are who they are, and they live out who they are. Their spirituality (or lack of it) feels natural and believable.
On a closing note, Jim is a great guy. Think about sending some money his way, and support a self-made author. I know he'd appreciate it. If you don't like reading about serial killers, don't worry. You can read his other works, which include science fiction, the story of the Nativity from the point of view of the animals (great for kids), and a nonfiction account of Steven Stayner's heroic act to free himself and a potential new victim of the pedophile who kidnapped Stayner when the boy was just 7 years old.
For more about Jim or to order his books, visit his website, jimlaughter.com.
Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.