CFBA Tour – Nothing To Hide By J. Mark Bertrand


Nothing To Hide (Bethany House Publishing) is a Roland March mystery by Mark Bertrand, a writer I got to know at the Faith In Fiction forum years ago. I later had the privilege of meeting him in person at an ACFW conference.

Besides his Roland March mysteries, he co-authored a mystery romance with Deeanne Gist and has written a non-fiction book on Christian worldview. As you might guess, the man is a real talent.

All this to say, when I get an opportunity to read and talk about his work, I’m eager to do so.

The problem is, my copy of Nothing To Hide only arrived last Thursday. Unfortunately, I couldn’t drop everything else and read through, much as I would have loved to. Being a notoriously slow reader, I have only reached the critical set up point during the few hours I’ve been able to settle in with the book.

So rather than a review, I’m offering first impressions. The first is my typical reaction when I crack a book and discover first person, present tense writing–a silent groan.

It’s not my favorite. I’ve tried to figure out why, and the main things that come to mind are moot points if the technique is executed well (see review for Shannon Dittemore’s Angel Eyes).

Clearly, Mark is a skilled writer, and until I sat down to write this post, I hadn’t thought about the point of view or tense since I first started the book.

The plot revolves around a fairly gruesome murder–Roland March is a homicide detective, after all–so there was a little CSI feel to the story at the beginning. I think many readers will be attracted to this aspect, and it wasn’t a negative for me since I wasn’t actually seeing all grisly parts. (Yes, parts!)

The character continues to intrigue me. I’ve seen growth over the first two books, and he isn’t the same despairing, insecure person he was in the first two volumes. He’s still troubled, still trying to make life work, but I like him better so far, respect him more.

Mark’s writing is stellar. There are no hiccups, nothing that pulls me from the story. The scenes are painted well without laboring over needless detail, the characters all seem to be living, breathing people with their own issues.

All in all, this is a satisfying beginning. I’m glad to get back to it again when I must put it down.

If you’d like to read an actual review, check out my friend Nicole‘s article (she is also a former FIF’er) or the excellent one by Linda. I admit, I had to skim their summary of the story because I didn’t want to know anything ahead of time, but their comments about the book are thoughtful.

Better yet, get a copy of the book and find out for yourself what a good storyteller Mark is.

Published in: on July 3, 2012 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off on CFBA Tour – Nothing To Hide By J. Mark Bertrand  
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CFBA – Winter Haven by Athol Dickson


I’m going to borrow Mark Goodyear‘s favorite method of participating in a blog tour—the first page critique. (Remember, imitation is the highest form of flattery. 😉 )

The Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is featuring Winter Haven by Christy-Award-winning author Athol Dickson.

First, the page itself:

The Gulf of Maine lay easily beneath the mail boat’s keel, passing gentle swells below the vessel like a mother’s soothing stroke upon a baby’s back. This was misery to me. The slow rise up, the slow sink down, the laborious roll to one side at the crest of every swell, the inevitable correction back the other way as the boat slipped toward the trough beyond—all of it had worked upon my stomach without mercy.

I groaned. “How much longer?”

“Ain’t far now, hon,” replied the big woman at the wheel.

We had been at this all morning, doing only eight knots because of the impossibly dense fog that contained us—me and the woman and one other passenger, a man in a vaguely martial khaki vest that seemed to contradict his baby face and the look of perpetual astonishment behind his thick eyeglass lenses. The man chattered on and on, a bottomless source of useless knowledge, unaffected by the little vessel’s endless rolling. He spoke to the woman about ancient boatbuilding techniques, the rules of cribbage, internal combustion engines, and of course the weather. He said the fog was thicker and more widespread than usual because of a strange temperature pattern in the area, with daily highs a full ten degrees above normal while the seatwater remained as cold as ever.

Thoughts on the opening sentence: The Gulf of Maine lay easily beneath the mail boat’s keel, passing gentle swells below the vessel like a mother’s soothing stroke upon a baby’s back. Did it grab me? Not in the usual way. There was no big mystery or problem or anomaly or question. But the image was vivid, interesting, unique.

And that line was followed by one of jarring contradiction: This was misery to me. Contradiction in its length as well as in in its content. What was gentle, soothing like a mother’s stroke was a misery. I’m hooked.

More so in the simple lines of dialogue soon to come, when I learn that the pilot of the vessel is a “big woman.” I’d have expected a gruff or gnarled old man—you know, standard small-boat-captain fare. Instead, Dickson surprises me.

He also gives excellent “description through motion” which brings the scene to life: The slow rise up, the slow sink down, the laborious roll to one side at the crest of every swell, the inevitable correction back the other way as the boat slipped toward the trough beyond—all of it had worked upon my stomach without mercy. By the time I finished reading that line, I was conscious of a little queasiness myself and had to remember that I wasn’t really seasick for I would have taken Dramamine beforehand. 😀 I especially appreciated the cadence of the sentence, so clearly illustrating the very movement it described. Masterful.

The final long paragraph was given mostly to the description of the talkative passenger. Again, whether intentional or not, the choice of a long paragraph here is fitting. The passenger prattles on about this and that, even as the paragraph grows in length (continuing on for a sentence or two on the next page).

I like the specifics Dickson offers about the passenger—his vaguely martial khaki vest, his baby face, his look of perpetual astonishment behind his thick lenses. The man comes to life with the description, but more so his personality takes shape as the reader learns what he chooses to talk about.

My one problem with the first page is this. I thought the point of view character was a man. She is not. As I look back, I can see clues to her gender. The opening simile, for example, is more appropriate for a woman than for a man. The pilot calling her “hon” was another clue, but in seeing that the pilot was a woman, I had no trouble thinking she would call a younger man hon.”

In major crit(tique) mode, I would also add, I’d expect a woman to pay a little closer attention to another woman, especially one who was doing a job so often associated with a man. Later we have a little description of the pilot, but on the second page, in the first paragraph, she is still simply “the woman,” with no further elaboration. Not surprising from a man’s point of view, I think. Chances are, a man wouldn’t notice unless he was attracted to her. But a woman in all likelihood would have had some thought about the other woman on board that boat.

Still, it is a minor, minor point, and one I didn’t think of until later (when I found out she was a woman and started looking back at the beginning). Without a doubt, this first page hooked me and propelled me on to read the first two chapters, though I had intended to look only at the opening.

Let me close with this. Not only does the first page give me a vivid scene, introduce me to a character I feel some sympathy for, and put me in an intriguing place, the language of the story promises to be harmonious with the whole. It undergirds the story, highlights and illustrates and delights. For an example of the latter, you really need to read the rest of the paragraph that continues on page two:

He said the damp warm air moving slowly over the frigid sea caused the mist to rise. He said this was called “advection fog,” although I considered it affliction fog since he simply would not stop talking.

Yep, here’s an opening with promise!

Published in: on April 25, 2008 at 11:53 am  Comments (6)  
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CFBA Tour—Amber Morn


Brandilyn Collins is a wonderful writer. My problem, not hers, is that she writes suspense. I’ve known for some time that I belong to her Big Honkin’ Chicken Club … though marginally. These are readers who steer away from all things scary. I only marginally belong in the club because nothing I’ve read of Brandilyn’s hits my too-scary button.

Her latest release, Amber Morn , the final installment in her Kanner Lake series, didn’t push the envelop either. What I have come to realize, however, is that I want something more.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Amber Morn is an example of Brandilyn’s fine writing. She’s done something different in this book, too. As a way of closing out a series centered on the people of Kanner Lake who come together at the cafe Java Joint, Brandilyn has written a story featuring an ensemble cast. It is a unique book, very different from the previous three in this series.

And the story has a surprise twist at the end, one I didn’t see coming at all. I love to be surprised in a story, and Brandilyn delivered.

But … but … I don’t love the book as I suspect suspense readers do. I didn’t feel the thrill or the worry or the fear that I read other fans experiencing. I didn’t devour the book, turning pages late into the night, then keep the light on to chase away the fright, as others have reported.

In other word, this book succeeds mightily in giving lovers of suspense just what they want. I, however, am not a lover of suspense. Never have been.

Still, I will happily tell others who are fans of the genre, especially of stories written from a Christian worldview, you won’t be disappointed with Amber Morn. There are three-dimensional bad guys, sympathetic characters, heros, innocent bystanders … lots of people to care for. And a plot with interesting turns and plenty, plenty of suspense.

I will admit, two things snagged me. One is connected to an early incident that looked like it happened but didn’t (I don’t want to give a spoiler). In my mind, that was a lose-lose scenario, because if it did happen, I would have been upset with the book, but because it didn’t happen, my reaction to the rest of the story was tempered.

The second snag was the motivation of the three perpetrators. I thought they were selflessly taking on sure condemnation for the sake of the youngest brother. To me, it didn’t seem to fit their character, to knowingly face prison (at best) just so Youngest could go free. Doubtless, most readers will see no problem with the character motivation. There is an element of plausibility—a familial tie that seems … touching. But in thinking, what does this character hope for? it seemed odd to think, He hopes his youngest will go free even though he and the other two sons will never enjoy him or reap benefit from his freedom. They just didn’t seem that selfless to me.

But there you have it. I’ve come to realize, I want to read books with characters that ponder the consequences of their actions, who are changed internally as well as externally. Not just books that give momentary thrills.

Clearly, momentary thrills are there aplenty in Amber Morn. And for those who enjoy fast action, heart-pounding, seatbelt suspense, this book will not disappoint.

Published in: on April 9, 2008 at 11:01 am  Comments (7)  
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