Looking for a novel which will test your intellectual limits, encourage your faith, and give you a story so dark you’re left feeling chilled to the bone? Well, look no further.
Let’s just say that the title character of this fourth installment in Steven James’ Bowers Case Files series is not your ordinary bishop, and this novel is not your everyday, run-of-the-mill work of Christian fiction. In fact, when I first started reading this series I couldn’t help but think, “How on earth did these books find their way to the shelves of a Christian bookstore? “ But the more I dove into the gripping story and peeled back the outer layers, the more I began to understand.
To put it bluntly, this book and its companions are not for the faint of heart. They give startling accounts of brutality and murder which will make your skin crawl, and explore just how dark the human heart can become.
But the reason I love this series is that every single one of its characters are both highly intellectual – and, well – real. From the skilled FBI agents to the estranged teenage daughter to the killer himself – every character feels so human you’ll swear you know these people. And every character is smart. Patrick Bowers, the lead detective, holds a Ph.D. and knows how to make logic and technology work for him as he races to solve each new crime. Of course, the villain is just as cunning, and always manages to stay one step ahead of our hero. The FBI agents exchange clever banter and debate about differing theories of criminology. But my favorite character is Tessa, the rebellious and stubborn stepdaughter who has a photographic memory and a passion for English Literature. You won’t find this teenage girl whining to her father about clothes or makeup. Oh no… instead we find her in an intelligent debate with her father about whether or not the methods of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” were as logical as he claimed, and whether or not he was just a shameless copy of a similar character invented by Edgar Allan Poe.
Like its predecessors, The Bishop will keep you guessing, will keep your heart beating wildly in your chest, and will make you think. In this particular novel Bowers faces a series of complex puzzles, including a deadly duo with murderous habits, a surprise custody battle, and a love triangle which his emotionally disturbed teen attempts to help him figure out (in other words, a recipe for utter disaster).
Like the other books in the series, The Bishop is named after a standard chess piece, and the book itself is laid out like a clever game of chess. The highly intelligent characters work to predict the others’ moves and react quickly to their opponent’s mental strategies in an effort to corner their foe and mutter, “Checkmate.”
As for the Christian themes in the book? They’re there – this particular book grapples with the problem of sin and free will, Intelligent Design, and the problem of abortion. But these messages are as subtle as a clever chess move, and are buried deep within the context of the story – deeper, in fact, than most of the corpses the novel’s cold-blooded killers leave behind. If you’re willing to delve into the many layers of the narrative, however, you’ll find a powerful argument for faith in God hidden within the story’s complexity.
Christian Reader Rating: PG-13 – I really do not recommend this book for children or younger teens. It was designed for mature readers who will be able to handle the gruesome accounts of murder and violence without becoming upset or disturbed, and for readers who are knowledgeable enough to break down the story’s complex and intellectual arguments.