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Friday, February 3, 2012

Book Review: Not in the Heart by Chris Fabry

I own several novels by Chris Fabry, just waiting to be read, but this is the first one I've read from start to finish. Now I realize I've been missing out. What a find I discovered when I read Not in the Heart by Chris Fabry.

This is the story of Truman Wiley, an unemployed reporter whose son, Aiden, will die without a heart transplant. The fascinating premise is that a man on death row, Terrelle Conley, has offered Truman's son his heart, but here's the catch: while investigating Terrell's story for a book, Truman discovers that Terrelle may not be guilty of the crime. But if Truman's investigation prevents Terrelle's execution, then Aiden won't get the heart transplant he needs to live. What's a man to do? Either way, someone has to die. This is a complicated situation, and thankfully the story offers no pat answers.

Chris has won the Christy Award for good reason; this guy knows how to write and spin a tale. His writing is often poetic and always vibrant and meaningful. His characters have depth. His dialogue sings. Every phrase counts, often with humor, sarcasm, and startling insights. Even the suspense works (especially in the last quarter of the book) for a novel that isn't really pegged as suspense.

Still, I must admit that I had a difficult time getting into the first half of this novel. Though Truman is an interesting character, he comes across as across-the-board unsympathetic for a good while. He doesn't want to see his sick son, he's messed up his marriage, he's in terrible debt, he's estranged his daughter, and he literally gambles away the advance for the book he's writing about Terrelle. Things just seem to go from bad to worse—and Truman is frankly his own worst enemy. Several times I felt like screaming, "No, don't do it!" And then Truman would do it, and I'd wonder if there was anything to like about this guy and his pitiful existence. This all made for difficult reading at times, but I'm glad I stuck with it.

Thankfully, the plot kicks in, the suspense revs, and the tension builds—and we're up against the clock as each chapter counts down the days to execution. Truman begins a formal investigation with the help of his estranged daughter. Meanwhile, the gentle testimony of Truman's Christian wife, Ellen, and Terrelle and his wife gradually tear away the Christian stereotypes and work away at Truman's jaded, cynical heart, showing him faith in action. I love the way these characters show true faith more than they talk about it (words are cheap). Though the message in this novel is never heavy handed, it permeates the story line from beginning to end—and yes, it's all about redemption. Redemption for a man whose self-centered ways have alienated him from everyone he loves and distanced him from true meaning in life. Jesus is clearly the answer (as Chris clearly shows without compromise), but will Truman reach out for Him? Chris wisely steers clear of a cookie-cutter, cliched altar call. Instead he gently reveals a dawning desire for grace.

As the story drew to a close, I thought I knew what was going to happen—and was pleasantly surprised by a masterful twist I didn't see coming. All in all, I was impressed and am glad I persevered and read this novel. The writing is impressive, the premise is original and fascinating, the author doesn't cop out on message (a growing trend in CBA), and the unexpected, redemptive ending provides just the right sense of closure. This was a very good read. Now I eagerly reach for more Fabry on my shelf.

Note: B&B Media Group and the publisher provided a free pre-press galley of this novel for review purposes.

1 comment:

  1. I just reviewed this on GoodReads and saw you had reviewed it here, so I came over to read it. This was my first Fabry book - I just read it earlier this year - and it caused me to read a couple more of his since then. This one is still my favorite.