When I reviewed THE ASSIGNMENT by Mark Andrew Olsen in 2004, I noted that the author structured his story more as a battle of good versus evil than of believer versus nonbeliever. In THE WATCHERS, Olsen’s new novel of suspense, the battle remains primarily between good and evil --- but there is a stronger theme of believer versus nonbeliever.
Twenty-year-old Abby Sherman, a self-described sheltered blonde California girl, has been blogging on the social networking site MyCorner.com. When she posts about a vivid, biblically-themed dream, she gets more than she bargained for in response. Not only does she receive thousands of emails from young African-American women saying they’ve had the same dream, her beloved family housekeeper is savagely murdered and Abby comes down with a mysterious and incurable disease that threatens to take her life before she can find answers to anything.
As in THE ASSIGNMENT, there is a secret society behind the scenes, in this case the Order of the Scythe (and yes, sickles are used as weapons) and its ruthless Shadow Leader. When Abby’s verbose yet sincere blog entries about her dreams (including a remarkable trip-to-heaven scenario) leads her first to “The Mara McQueen Show” (think Oprah) and then on Mara’s private jet to Nigeria in order to discover the meaning of the phrase “Iya Agba,” she alerts the Order to power that they'd hoped was lying dormant. A trained assassin, Dylan Hatfield, is given the task of “harvesting” Abby so that the Scythe cause will not be impeded.
Once Abby has joined up with Sister Okoye and Dylan (disguised with a pseudonym), there are lots of loose ends to tie up. Why do so many women share the same visions? Who is Dylan, and why has his mission changed? What does the Order want to have happen? Why does Jesus Christ want Abby to “heal the breach?”
Unfortunately, I never really cared about Abby or anything that was happening to her. She might have been more interesting if she’d had more of a spiritual struggle. However, Sister Okoye and her fellow Nigerian sisters in Christ fascinated me, as did Dylan as he struggles to find a new way to live after years and years of certainty.
Though not quite as strong as THE ASSIGNMENT, it is still a compelling read (I really wanted to finish the book and learn the outcome). Olsen is an excellent prose craftsman and an imaginative storyteller who juggles the different threads of his plot so adroitly. The most fascinating part of THE WATCHERS is his handling of a complicated country --- Nigeria --- and its Yoruban culture’s powerful intersection with Christianity, past and present.
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on March 1, 2007