Waking Lazarus by T.L. Hines

The next stop on our summer tour of thrillers is T.L. Hines‘debut novel Waking Lazarus. This “Christian Thriller” comes to me by way of the Christian Fiction Blog Tour.

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.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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3 Comments

  • Thanks, Kevin, for such a thoughtful analysis of the book. I did struggle, at times, with the subject matter myself–I frankly never set out to write a book featuring a child abductor. But Jude’s struggle with his own childhood, with his father, and with being the father he always wanted to be, seemed to play into that kind of subplot very well.

    As for the depiction of the villain: guilty as charged. The Hunter is over the top, but necessarily so–I felt someone who does something as evil as he does has to have lost touch with his own humanity in many ways. In fact, in previous versions of the book, the Hunter always referred to himself as an “it,” because he feels he’s risen above mere human emotions. I think that probably would have made those sections even more difficult for many people to read, so we can thank Dave Long, my editor, for suggesting we change that.

    Again, thanks so much for reading the book–and taking the extra effort of writing about it. I’d love to chat about other books with you sometime. :)

  • Kevin, I don’t have any kids, and I still felt as you did about the chapters written in the villain’s POV. Every time I came to one of those, I cringed inwardly.

    But the rest … really well-written.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your review, especially the analysis. Hard to do when, for the most part, you’re addressing people who have not yet read the book.

    Becky

  • I loved the book, and I agree with your feelings on the darker points. But I think it helped delineate the light from the darkness. I would not have named the killer the “Hunter”, but I understand why Tony wrote him that way.

    This is my first visit to your blog, but I like what I see.

    Excellent review!

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