In THE INCUMBENT, as in some of his previous novels (THE PRODIGY, DARK MOON), author Alton Gansky shows that he knows how to set up a story with maximum suspense while incorporating strong Christian themes, to the continuing delight of his faith fiction readers.
In the small southern California coastal town of Santa Rita, Mayor Madison "Maddy" Glenn watches as those who worked on her campaign begin disappearing one by one --- with only a few drops of blood left behind in symmetrical patterns and carefully arranged to point toward her as the reason for the kidnappings. But why has the perpetrator gone after her friends, and not the mayor herself? As the attractive (and single) detective Judson West tells her, "My guess is, they want something from you." Soon, she is riddled by guilt: "I was feeling like the reincarnation of Typhoid Mary," muses Maddy. As the story unfolds, any association with the mayor seems to be an invitation to murder, assault, or abduction.
Unable to know whom to trust, the attractive widow takes in Celeste Truccoli, the 19-year-old daughter of one of her friends who has disappeared. When it soon becomes apparent that anyone she loves is in danger, Maddy's mother and father also move in, and Gansky paints them both as engaging, loveable parents. Back at the office, Randi Portman, Maddy's able personal assistant, keeps things running smoothly while pushing the Mayor to up the ante and run for Congresswoman at the next election. When Celeste's estranged father jets in for reasons never fully explained and begins having Maddy and Celeste followed, chaos ensues. Dr. Jerry Thomas, a middle-aged divorcee who has known Maddy for years, adds another dollop of possible romantic intrigue to the tale.
Gansky does a good job writing in first person as a woman, and is adept at laying many false rabbit trails for the reader to follow. He also writes some nice descriptions of the beautiful southern California landscape where the story unfolds (although he has a fondness for the word "azure"). He occasionally overdescribes (flames in a fireplace "dance like leprechauns on St. Paddy's day" and tears "broke through like Huns attacking a village"). He sometimes falls back on the overused novelist's device of describing his characters appearance as they see themselves reflected in a window or a mirror. Gansky also occasionally "tells" rather than "shows" ("The pier is a place of constant activity..."). He also makes many of his sentences the same length, rather than varying the length for the enjoyment of the reader. Readers may also find themselves confused when the plot ending revolves around a fire ant bite that seemingly happens on a boat at sea (or happens at a location where there is a security camera close by).
Yet all of these are blips in what is a genuinely enjoyable suspense novel. Gansky knows how to keep his readers guessing, and the device of the blood drops he uses to frame his story around will have a chilling effect on the reader. Although some conversion scenes feel a little heavy-handed rather than flowing seamlessly into the story, the redemptive conclusion of the novel has some nice twists and surprises. This fast-paced tale of intrigue in a small southern California coastal town is an enjoyable one for faith fiction fans.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on September 14, 2004