As I noted in a recent In the Mail, I haven’t read a great deal of Christian fiction. I have read fiction by Christians and about Christians, but nothing that was strictly in this category. When I thought about it, which wasn’t all that often, it seemed to me that “CBA” books were dominated by romance and historical fiction or some combination of the two. I admit I didn’t do much research, but what I saw never really caught my eye.
Recently, I have sought to reassess this situation by reading some of best this category has to offer. To make it easier on myself I asked Dave at Faith in Fiction for some recommendations (more about those books later) and I joined the Christian Fiction Blog Tour.
It took awhile to get on the list and start getting the books, so this week is my first of actual participation. The book covered is Kathryn Mackel’s The Hidden If this book is any indication of the overall quality, I am excited about the rest of the year. The Hidden turned out to be an emotional and suspenseful supernatural thriller. I found myself reading furiously trying to finish. I read on the bus to work this morning, at lunch, and on the way home in order to finish.
The plot focuses on Boston psychiatrist Susan Stone who returns to her childhood home in Colorado to help her injured father run his horse farm. Things get off to a rough start when the birthing of her father’s prize Arabian goes badly. This escalates tensions and brings all kinds of family grudges to the surface. Unable to deal with her feelings Susan heads off into the stormy night on the same horse that threw her father and sent him to the hospital.
Leading the horse up the dangerous mountainside she is thrown from the horse and into a dark crevice. There she finds a young man chained in a cave. In helping this mysterious stranger Susan unleashes events that will change her family, and the sleepy Colorado town they live in, forever.
The plot is complex, and I won’t spoil it for you here, but Mackel anchors it around a strong cast of characters. In addition to Susan, there is:
– Susan’s father Charlie, a stubborn and ornery horse rancher who is betting everything on his pregnant prize Arabian and doesn’t seem to care about much else.
– Rick Sanchez, the local sheriff and childhood friend of Susan who is determined to get to the bottom of both the identity of the rescued young man, but also the gruesome murders haunting this small Colorado town.
– Charlie’s second wife Jeannette, a caring, devout Christian with bad knees but a big heart.
– Mellisa, the adopted daughter of Charlie’s second wife Jeannette. She is also the former girlfriend and fiancee of Susan’s son Christopher who recently died of an apparent suicide.
– Jacob, the name adopted by the rescued young man who has apparently lost his memory. He has no recollection of who he is or how he came to be chained in the crevice.
The plot is pushed forward on a number of levels. The action is centered on the identity of Jacob and the cause of the charred bodies that keep turning up. The murders add an element of danger and Jacob brings a sense of mystery. As the plot moves forward Mackel slowly brings in the supernatural elements to ratchet up the tension and accelerate the action.
But Mackel also weaves in a powerful emotional story line. Susan brings with her a past full of secrets and pain. And her presence at the ranch brings all of these issues to the forefront. Jacob has a way of putting his finger on these painful memories and bringing them out into the open. With the ranch under siege and Jacob’s life potentially hanging in the balance, Susan, Charlie, and Mellisa must face their past and learn to forgive each other if they can hope to survive the events that are unfolding before them. In this way, the challenge is both physical and spiritual/emotional. Anyone who has dealt with the inevitable family ghosts and grudges will recognize the temptation to nurse our hurt feelings until we push away those we love the most.
I am not usually one to enjoy stories that deal heavily in emotional healing, dysfunctional relationships, etc. But I found this side of The Hidden to be realistic and moving. The same can be said for the Christian aspect as well. Mackel does a good job making the characters believable and so their faith, or need for faith, seems to flow naturally rather than appear tacked on. (Of course, I am already a Christian so perhaps I am not the best judge of what might seem out of place.)
The supernatural aspects may seem fantastic but what thriller doesn’t have events and explanations that stretch the imagination or push the boundaries of believability? Mackel keeps you guessing right until the climax and builds the tension well; adding in new details but keeping the whole picture just out of reach. As I noted above, I found the plot to be captivating and I found myself turning the pages in a mad rush to find out what happens.
The Hidden may get tagged as a “Christian Thriller” but I am not sure the prefix is necessary. Sure, this particular take on the battle of good versus evil has a particularly Christian perspective. And yes, faith in God is taken seriously by the author and a number of the characters. But I don’t see how this changes a great deal. Why should Christianity playing a central role in a story limit its audience any more than any other perspective, background, or setting? One doesn’t have to accept the author’s faith or agree with the character’s choices in order to enjoy the skill with which the story is told; to appreciate the imagination required to create it; or the entertainment it provides.
Kathryn Mackel, a screenwriter for Disney and Fox, clearly knows how to tell a powerful story. The Hidden is an exciting page turner with an emotional punch; a supernatural thriller with a human touch. No matter what your religious background, If you enjoy fast paced thrillers and are looking for something a little different this summer check out The Hidden.