Since I grew up just south of Dallas, smack dab in the middle of tornado alley, I'm familiar with sirens. The kind that go off and mean, "Get in your bathtub with a mattress over you now," or when at school, "Go sit against the wall in the hallway and cover your head." Because neither my home nor my school was ever hit by a tornado, it remains an abstract concept to me and I confess that I actually enjoy the adrenaline rush when the sky grows dark and green and those sirens go off.
In THE SPLITTING STORM, by Rene Gutteridge, FBI agent Mick Kline knows that adrenaline rush well. When he's not chasing criminals, he's chasing tornados across Texas and Oklahoma. The book opens with his pursuit of the perfect picture of a twister. But this storm quickly gives way to another one when Mick's brother, a police officer, is found dead and he becomes obsessed with tracking down the killer.
Mick develops a theory that his brother's death is linked to several other law enforcement officials. The lack of evidence to support this theory and Mick's growing preoccupation with it raise the hackles of his boss, who eventually forces him to take a month-long vacation. But rather than heading to the beach, Mick begins to criss-cross Texas in an attempt to find evidence that will bolster his theory.
Along the way Mick meets Faith Kemper, the widow of a police officer whose death Mick thinks might be linked to his brother's. Both characters are Christians and their spiritual struggles --- for Mick to relinquish his desire for revenge and for Faith to reconnect with the God she blames for her husband's death --- play prominent roles in the story. So does a sketchy police chief, a mysterious bus boy, a landlord with indefatigable love of language and the Lord, and a dog named Sissy.
THE SPLITTING STORM is broken down into 42 small chapters that give the narrative a driving quality and keep readers turning pages despite a predictable plot and thin character development. Much of the dialogue, internal and spoken, seems clichéd and stilted as a result of a classic author blunder --- telling rather than showing. For example, it's incredibly important that an author show you that a person is angry through a nuanced description of their actions rather than employing copious adverbs and/or simply stating that the character is mad. To do otherwise is to create a heavy-handed story with characters who move stiffly through the pages, as in THE SPLITTING STORM.
That's not to say that THE SPLITTING STORM is completely without merit. Take it with you to the beach or on an airplane flight, and you can pass time with a faith-based story that won't necessarily demand your full attention. And if you like it, keep your eyes open for its prequel, STORM GATHERING, coming to bookstores in Spring 2005.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on May 24, 2004