For this indie Christian book, I’m going to front-load all my complaints, and then focus on what I liked.
That way, it’s like struggling to remove the sticky wax-paper wrapper on a chocolate toffee, then getting to eat the toffee! (I’m sure lots of people compare my reviews to chocolate toffee…)
Fire the Editor
While pleading guilty to using family members to proof my own self-published works, I nevertheless insist Ms. Holman FIRE HER EDITOR. Grammatical errors and flubbed punctuation plagued every chapter — to gather all the dropped articles would create a veritable lost-and-found warehouse. There was also at least one instance of their/there confusion, which should be caught by the second or third person to read through the manuscript.
More importantly, one scene has the characters magically blinking from “getting in a car” to “walking in single file”, to “riding in the car”, to “walking side-by-side down a hallway”, to “staring into each others’ eyes (location unclear)”.
This wouldn’t be caught by Grammarly (I don’t think – never used it), but it’s still sloppy to the point of amateurism. I don’t know that it’s necessary to pay for editing services (I never have) but at the very least Ms. Holman should seek out better help than she’s getting now.
Keep Your Ears Open
This was a more minor thing, but it still tripped me up a couple times while reading. The point of view (POV) is not very “deep”, meaning we get only limited glimpses of the thoughts of whichever character we’re “riding along” with.
This makes a more streamlined narrative, but also made it easier to forget who I was supposed to be “riding” with, leading me to occasionally pull up and scroll back, wondering, “Am I supposed to be hearing his thoughts? Aren’t we in her head?”
I’m not sure what the solution would be, but it’s another thing I’d have in mind if the author were to issue a second edition.
Finally, a more personal note, but one which niggled at me throughout the book: most of the dialogue is devoid of contractions. Being a mystery, there’s quite a lot of dialogue, and it grated at my suspension of disbelief to say things like:
“Maybe that is why I believe her. I have never liked it when investigators are quick to point fingers… I know the evidence isn’t there, but I will find it.”
Everyone you know is distinct and enunciated? Really?
Maybe the author’s circle grammar-proofs their speech in this way, but the people I know (and write) can barely string out an independent clause, let alone actually separate words out when you can say:
“You wouldn’t’ve said that if you’d seen her. A situation like that – crazy. Y’know?”
God’s Not Dead-Syndrome
This is “Christian fiction” in the “stand on your car and sing Bible verses” category. NOT necessarily a bad thing, of course. I had to smile when Patrick first started reciting a psalm to Kate, to comfort her during the college bombing, and he used the exact same psalm I offered from memory to comfort people in our Sunday School class.
(Grabbing my candy metaphor, here, we have enough of the wrapper off to take a tantalizing bite of the good stuff, before going back to digging at shreds of waxed paper.)
The Christians in the book sounded real.
They didn’t sound like a person who watched some Netflix shows trying to research how Christians talked. They sounded like someone who actually knew the language of the church – actually knew the Bible verses that were quoted (in context).
They struggled with trusting God and trying to do the right thing, but not because they didn’t believe in Him or had some deep, dark, stereotypical baggage they held against Him. They were slipping and sliding, but clinging and following all the same.
This had its own downside.
Every single person on the FBI investigative team is a Christian. As Kate thinks, “Is this whole team Christian?!”
I personally understand this tendency, but it’s yet another sign of a young author “writing what she knows” even though what she knows is a small, Christian-homeschool-centered piece of the world.
Since Ms. Holman is targeting the “Indie Christian” market, this might not be a problem for her – but it does emphasize that her intended audience is very specific.
Speaking to that intended audience, then: Ms. Holman clearly had a spiritual point (call it a “spiritual conflict” if you prefer) in mind when she wrote the book.
Trust God. Don’t try to do things in your own strength.
This is a great lesson, but the best lessons aren’t taught in a classroom. FBI agent Patrick is inexplicably convinced that Kate is innocent, even as the evidence slowly mounts against her. His best friend and coworker urges him (repeatedly) to stop trying to defend Kate in his own strength, but to pray and trust God to reveal the truth.
As Patrick remarks, he starts to sound like a broken record. It’s great advice, but what is Patrick to do? Stop working his hardest? Slack on his job? Pray that God will “point” him to the answer?
His friend doesn’t suggest any of these things – just that Patrick pray, trust God, and maybe chill out.
I realize that God cares about our motivations and inner thoughts, but for as much time as this conflict took, I didn’t feel it had a very dramatic conclusion.
(Ew – wax paper tastes like…wax paper!)
When you have a male and female lead, the conclusion is almost forgone. On meeting Kate in a stressful situation, Patrick has an immediate urge to “protect” her, while Kate has these repeated fantasies of “sobbing on his shoulder like a child”. We got it the first time, thank you.
(What’s this? Another bite of chocolate toffee goodness?)
They avoid romantic terms for most of the book. Yay! While stereotypically oblivious to the “unspoken bond between them”, Patrick and Kate fall into a knight-in-armor/princess-in-danger pattern, which is both classic and appropriate.
As with some of the other thematic elements, I felt the point was a little belabored, but as they escape the book without even a passionate declaration or a chest-heaving resignation, it makes a refreshing change for anyone tired of the soft-porn Janette Okes.
Now it’s time to dig our teeth into toffee!
The characters were varied and colorful. Patrick’s FBI team is playful and individualistic, with a no-nonsense boss to rein them in.
While I might roll my eyes a little at the platitudes they offer, they also offer love. Far from being hypocrites, these Christians give Kate the same love and acceptance that they claim comes from God.
While the side characters didn’t get nearly as much fleshing-out as the two leads, they were consistent, with a hidden layer here or there to hint at depth.
Who Done It?
Who bombed the campus? Who blew up three college buildings and displaced hundreds of students?
For as important as the spiritual angles were to the author, the law-enforcement question also remained in the forefront.
Clues, timelines, cross-examination…each element bounced off the others, building a picture of what happened.
Like every well-done mystery, I solved it right along with the investigators. When the conclusion came, it fit into place against the back-drop of the preceding book without the dissonance of an “out of left field” twist.
The investigators are professional and competent.
Despite inner-team conflicts (and despite Patrick’s gut-instinct to believe in Kate’s innocence), the agents perform their due diligence in every area. They do not pounce on conclusions based on vague evidence, then charge after their pet theories with complete disregard to protocol.
Even Patrick (who, to all intents and purposes, seems star-struck by the damsel-in-distress) follows through and forces himself to consider all the evidence, even when it throws Kate in a bad light.
It’s not even amateur-protagonist Kate who solves the case – nor an equally lame “Deus ex machina”. It’s the professional, fully-trained FBI team, working together, who uncover the pieces that point to the true culprit.
As much as I’m usually an anti-elitist…chock one up to the professionals!
(Gah! That wrapper paper can be hard to spot – but it sure has a different texture while chewing it!)
Although the team did finger the real villain, the ending was not all I could wish for. To avoid spoilers, I’ll just say they could have learned a lesson from Columbo.
For as much as I griped about getting waxed paper stuck in my teeth, I really did enjoy this
candy bar book. Despite the amateurish mistakes, I kept wanting to keep reading to find out what happened next. Events moved quickly, and the book is short enough that the action kept me moving.
And despite the sometimes preachy tone, the characters wrestled with what it means to trust God, even when things aren’t going your way.
A lot about this book screamed “inexperienced author”, but if she gets a few more years of writing under her belt, who knows?
If you like Mysteries with a heavy dose of Devotional mixed in, and don’t mind doing your own internal editing, Kate’s Innocence is already digging much deeper than some other products of the genre-mill. Once the author herself has added some years to her soul, her work could dig deeper still – and more organically.
DISCLAIMER: I received a free e-copy of this book through participating in the Indie Christian Authors Black Friday Sale (2017). I was not required to write a review, positive, negative, toffee, or otherwise.