God With GunsBy Jane Maduram
The Mark is the latest in a series of high-action, fast-paced thrillers. There are secret codes, high tech guns, and last-minute escapes. The characters are quite responsive; this is perhaps the first spy series I’ve read in which more than two characters change significantly or believably. And the series has slowly climbed up the charts until now, at the eighth book, new releases are consistently placing in the Top Ten list. Oh -- it’s also Christian.
The existence of a Christian thriller may seem oxymoronic, but it’s not entirely surprising. Apocalyptic threats to the world have always been standard fodder for spy novels, and the addition of God to the mix is certainly a smaller suspension of disbelief than most writers demand. One of Tom Clancy’s best-selling novels involved a Japanese plane crashing into the White House, followed by a biological weapons attack on the United States with the Ebola virus by the Arabs, a botched attempt on the president’s life by an immigrant, and a quarrel with India, all within the space of a few months.
Compared to that highly improbable sequence of events, a Christian thriller seems quite logical. The Left Behind series is based on Revelation, the final book of the Bible. Revelation prophesies a dictatorial world government, a series of plagues, and the organized persecution of Christians. All of this occurs after the Rapture, a time in which believing Christians are taken up to Heaven. Authors Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye started their book series right after Rapture, using the physical and psychological aftermath of the Rapture -- airplane and car crashes, communication shutdowns, and confused families -- to create a rational progression of events in an endgame scenario. Over the following books, Jenkins and LaHaye have methodically progressed up to Revelation 13; there are nine chapters left.
The major lure of the Left Behind series are its characters. Most thrillers star accomplished spies, well versed in weaponry and duplicity, to carry out the stunts in the book. The Left Behind series, however, works with a small group of normal people, none of whom have any initial experience in evading the government or police. An airplane pilot, a journalist, a college student, a programmer -- these aren’t exciting roles that a reader might dream of filling. They are, however, people that most readers can identify with.
Using these ordinary people, the series races through political machinations, underground movements, and confrontations with flair, avoiding for the most part the soppy excess of most spy novels. The only major failing is that the books of the series cannot be read separately, leading to a over-reliance on past information. This failing is counterbalanced by the ability of the authors to treat plot realistically.
While the sequence of events is heavily based on the words of the Bible and is thus “prewritten,” Jenkins and LaHaye use unexpected deaths and contributions to lend an element of unpredictability. This Christian thriller may be implausible to some and ridiculous to others, but it is definitely not boring.