The central character in Waking Lazarus is Jude Allman. Jude is living in Red Lodge, Montana under the name Ron Gress. He has sheetrocked over his windows, sleeps in a recliner rather than a bed, and arms a complex security system each night before dozing fitfully. What has caused Jude/Ron to act in this paranoid manner? He has been pronounced clinically dead three times and yet come back to life each time. These “near death” experiences forced on Jude an unwanted fame and the constant pressure to give desperate people “the answers.” The pressure soon got to be too much and he has escaped to Montana to avoid facing his past. He has suppressed almost all of the memories of his childhood and avoids thinking about the past. Working as a school janitor, Jude has become so inwardly focused and socially awkward that he barely relates to his son Nathan who lives in the same town with his single mother.
But it seems he can’t hide from the events of his past. A series of child abductions, and an encounter with a stranger who knows Jude’s identity, force him to deal with the past and contemplate his plans for the future. He feels the pull of escape – the ability to just disappear and start fresh somewhere else – but he wants to learn to be a father to his son. There are more questions than answers. Are his “visions” really hallucinations brought on by epileptic seizures? Are you really crazy if you can recognize your own paranoia? Can he trust Rachael (Nathan’s mother) or the mysterious Kristina?
Fast moving events soon force Jude to take action and use his unique gift to save those he loves.
Waking Lazarus is an interesting and suspenseful debut novel. It combines a twisting and turning mystery – including a rather dark subplot – with a spiritual storyline to great effect. The mystery keeps you in suspense and the spiritual aspect never overwhelms the story in a didactic way. For a debut novelist Hines does a great job of providing just enough information to keep the reader interested but withholding enough to keep the reader guessing. As with most good thrillers or mysteries there is a surprising twist at the end. I know some in the Christian fiction community are a little nervous about the sudden popularity of the “Christian Thriller” genre and where it might lead. I really can’t speak to the wider impact, but having read Hines and Kathryn Mackel it appears to me that Christian thriller writers are on par with their secular counterparts in providing suspenseful entertainment. If you like your thrillers a little dark and with a supernatural twist be sure to check out Waking Lazarus. I think you will enjoy it no matter what the label.
For a few further thoughts with minor spoilers click below.
Things I liked:
– Hines’ exploration of what it might feel like to be pushed to the edge by supernatural events is compelling. Jude Allman is a fascinating character. Paranoid, but aware of it. Prone to run and hide, but capable of courage when it is needed. Socially awkward, yet kind and desperate to build a relationship with his son. Hines does an excellent job of exploring Allman’s mindset and circumstances. As noted above, he plays out the back story slowly creating an air of mystery and suspense. Just as Jude is trying to piece together his shattered memories so to is the reader trying to make sense of his unique past.
– In the same way Hines does a good job of keeping the reader guessing about the child abduction side of the story. There are several characters who might turn out to be the villain and Hines keeps you on the hook until the very end. The psychological nature of the story forces you to explore which character is “normal” and which has a dark secret.
Something that bugged me:
– I will confess that I was not particularly comfortable with aspects of the child abduction plot. As PW notes “The descriptions of children hung in burlap bags, chained to beds or caged are not for the faint of heart.” For me, however, it wasn’t so much the physical abuse but the internal dialog of the abductor that rubbed me the wrong way. I will admit that the writing was successfully creepy and disturbing and perhaps that was the point; to see evil close up. But I really didn’t enjoy those sections very much.
I think it was a combination of the dark subject – the uncomfortable process of thinking about child abduction and abuse while your seventeen-month-old daughter plays nearby – and the awkwardness of the device at times. I am not expert an on mental illness, but the abductors talk of accepting and becoming and his use of electric shock therapy and the like seemed a bit forced to me. It seemed a little gratuitous or over-the-top. Those sections didn’t have the same rhythm as the other chapters for me.
That quibble aside, however, I found Waking Lazarus to be an creative, entertaining and suspenseful read. Like The Husband, a good summer thriller. Given its dark subplot, I might recommend you read it in the warm sunshine.