The pawn

The pawn

Steven James
Fleming H. Revell (distributed by Lion Hudson), 2007, £8.99, Pbk., 427p., ISBN 9780800732400

The Pawn is a thriller published by Revell, a company founded in 1870 by D.L. Moody’s brother-in-law to provide “practical books that would help bring the Christian faith to everyday life”. American author Steven James has published before. but The Pawn is his first thriller.

The story’s central character is Patrick Bowers, an FBI agent on the trail of a serial killer whose macabre calling cards are chess pieces. Called in because of his specialist tracking skills, Bowers finds his approach at odds with those around him. This is not all he has to contend with: he is also at odds with his troubled step-daughter.

A slightly unconventional workaholic who gets into trouble with his superiors seems to be quite normal for a fictional detective. However, I found the Patrick Bowers character to be credible and interesting, and I latched on straight away. Bowers’ colleagues, and his relationships with them, were particularly convincing, I thought.

As well as serial killings, the story also involves the activity of a religious cult and some sinister goings-on at government level. I wondered if there might be a little too much to digest here, but the story never flags and we are kept in suspense all the time.

In terms of Christian content, it should be said that this book feels like a thriller first and foremost: the faith part is relatively understated. Bower himself seems to be holding on to God on occasions, at other times not. A pastor and a deacon feature only very briefly in flashback. This is not a book with stories of conversions, and the few times that Bible verses do appear, they usually come courtesy of the cult. Perhaps the author is trying to make the point that true faith cannot be forced. At any rate one can certainly identify aspects of hope, love, friendship and, to some extent, forgiveness and reconciliation, against the backdrop of a fallen world. The idea of the present chaos not being part of God’s plan is mentioned several times.

As you would expect from a Christian publisher, there is no strong language and only occasional very mild sexual references. However, the story has some fairly horrific incidents and there are also descriptions of torture and self-harm. But it was also compelling at times and I will be tempted to buy the next Steven James novel, which appears later this year.

Contributed by: Robert L. Foster, BA, DipIM, MCLIP, who works as Deputy Counter Supervisor at the Maughan Library, King’s College, London, and serves on the CLIS executive committee.