Not in my lifetime. That's the thought that would run through my mind whenever some publishing industry colleague suggested that the quality of evangelical fiction would eventually rival that of mainstream novels. Deeming these hopelessly optimistic professionals as downright delusional, I continued to bypass the Christian fiction titles in my bookstores of choice.
Then something curious began to happen. Friends whose literary opinions I trusted began dropping the names of Christian novels that they considered good --- not just better than the usual fare, but genuinely good. Within the past year or so, I actually heard that praise applied to no less than a half-dozen titles. But when one friend described Ted Dekker's suspense novel THR3E as "flawless," I knew I had to read it, if only to prove her wrong.
By page 20 or so --- usually the point at which I relegate Christian novels to the "donate" pile --- I was completely hooked, no-turning back. At that point in the book, you know that mild-mannered seminarian Kevin Parson has done somebody wrong, given the car bomb and all. What you don't know yet is that the author is about to take you on an exhilarating ride filled with so many hairpin twists and turns that you'll quickly forget you have this other life requiring nuisance activities like eating and sleeping.
On the two or three occasions when something equaling a life-or-death emergency forced me to stop reading, I'd put the book aside and silently pray something ludicrous like "Please, God, please please please don't let this book be a disappointment." Foolish, adolescent, unsophisticated behavior, I know. But you know what? He must have heard me and at some point said, "OK," because THR3E never let me down.
The gist of the story is this, sort of: After getting the first call from a stranger warning him of the car bomb, Parson continues to hear from the mystery caller. Each time, the caller --- known as Slater --- threatens to cause greater destruction involving the loss of more and more lives unless Parson meets his single demand: that he confess his sin. Not his sins, but some great nameless sin that Parson has committed in the past. The bombings bring in the FBI and the California Bureau of Inspection and keep Parson on the move as he tries to make sense of Slater's maddening clues and thus avert catastrophe. That's "sort of" the gist, because things are seldom what they seem to be in this version of reality.
To go into much more detail would be difficult without venturing into the realm of spoiler. Believe me, this is one story you don't want anyone to spoil for you. I've read a fair number of suspense novels --- for whatever reason, it seems I couldn't get through a pregnancy without Robert Ludlum on my nightstand --- and each time I've held out hope that I'd experience the heady rush that comes with a true stunner, a surprise ending that I never could have anticipated. THR3E's rush brought to mind the phrase "shock and awe" --- only in this case, it seemed more accurate.
This is the point where I would normally say something negative, like "Yes, it's a great book, but…" and then drop some mild criticism on it. Few people trust the opinions of a gushing reviewer, so I'll try to maintain my credibility by issuing the only negative comment I can make about THR3E: It deprived me of the satisfaction of proving my friend wrong. Because, as I discovered, THR3E really is a flawless book.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on June 5, 2003