Beckon by Tom Pawlik (blog, Facebook, Twitter).
EDIT: Blogger decided to make the entire body of my review all caps. Yes, the book is THAT EXCITING, but it was not my intent. So apologies in advance for any weird formatting.
This is Julie again, posting for the CSFF Blog Tour! I have a review system you may (or may not) want to look at to see HOW I come up with my ratings and what I rate on.
Ridiculously simplified summary: An anthropology graduate seeks answers about his father. A young police officer seeks her missing cousin. And a rich man seeks a cure for his wife's Alzheimer's. Their journeys lead them to Beckon, Wyoming. Come. And live forever.
Content: Before you go any farther, keep in mind that I like a happy ending. The kind of ending where at least most of the main characters are as happy or happier at the end of the story than they were at the beginning.
This is not one of those books.
Beckon is labeled suspense, but I'd call it suspense like the movie Jurassic Park--except Jurassic Park has some moments of wonder and whimsy before the dinosaurs start eating everyone. This book is so violent, I’m tempted to call it horror. It disturbed my sleep multiple nights. I thought the Christian content was mostly confined to people coming to grips with their own mortality, though 2 characters were strong Christians and talked/thought about that a bit.
Compelling: 9 out of 10. Almost throughout, it's a page turner. There are entire paragraphs of flashback to explain each point-of-view character's circumstances, which made the beginning of the book in particular drag a bit for me. Despite that, once I was past the first few chapters, the book kept me reading, and I stayed up late a few nights with it.
Characters: 4 out of 10. Every character has a detailed backstory, so it's clear Pawlik put a lot of thought into them. It's providential how one point-of-view character meets someone who changes her worldview.
My main problem is that I just couldn't get into Jack's point of view. Looking back, I think it's the style, which just isn't the close third-person point of view I've been taught to write. Here are the first two paragraphs of the book (in effect, a flashback):
The last time he saw his father alive, Jackson David Kendrick was only nine years old.
The gray light of dawn was seeping in between his bedroom curtains when Jack woke to find him standing in the doorway. Dr. David Kendrick was a willowy, spectacled anthropologist at the University of Chicago. His black skin and wide brown eyes gave him a youthful appearance, but the flecks of silver frosting the edges of his hair made him look more distinguished and professorial. So people who didn't know him could never tell if he was twenty-nine or forty. But this morning, his normally thoughtful eyes looked weary as he sat on the edge of Jack's bed.
I’m sure the style is intentional, but it’s not how a nine-year-old (or even most 20-somethings) would see the scene, even though it refers to David as "his father" or even "his dad," indicating we're not seeing through an impartial narrator. I'm just used to reading a "close" point of view where the narration sounds kind of like something the point-of-view character would say or think. The distanced approach is likely standard for the genre--it reminded me a tiny bit of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama in that regard, actually (blocks of narration setting up characters who are there, in large part, to discover weird things).
Unfortunately, I also couldn’t bring myself to like Jack. I don't feel like his cause was ever worth risking his own life for, let alone the lives of others. Other characters in the book note that Jack has an almost callous disregard of his friends and associates, and I can’t really disagree.
I felt like women were short-changed (several were victims with menfolk trying to save them, and the rest were just victims--though in fairness, with this much violence, there were a lot of victims of both sexes). Elina's main POV section is a mere 35 pages, compared to Jack's 140-page section and George's 95 pages.
Elina has an interesting, nuanced past, but while she displays strength early on, by the end she's screaming like a kid. (True, she was in a very scary situation, but I expected a police officer to be at least as brave as a civilian just out of college.) On the plus side, it was nice to see a Hispanic character (something I haven’t seen in many Christian books). There's a lot of use of Spanish that sounded realistic to me, as well as a surprisingly sympathetic take toward illegal immigrants.
George seems a bit spry to me for a 70-something-year-old man, but as my main interaction with 70-something-year-old men is greeting them at church, I can't comment much on him. He seemed the most realistic to me (though truth is more compelling than fiction--a little bit on that tomorrow). There are some genuinely touching moments with George and his wife (I found the latter the most likable character in the book).
Writing/editing: 8 out of 10. Like many books I've read lately, I felt like the end fell apart a bit, glossing over some important bits and not answering all the questions. On a micro scale, though, I didn’t notice any grammatical problems. The story overall played out at a good pace, and the mystery unraveled well.
Plausibility/believability: 4 out of 5. I thought the storyline was basically plausible. I'm not sure the overarching villain would have been able to do all he did for so long without getting caught, but it seemed believable enough while reading. There is also a lot of pseudo-science that also sounds real.
Positive: 1 out of 5. A couple female characters show bravery in Christ. Other than that, there are a few prayers and that's all I remember. Many, many people (innocent and not) die terrible deaths with at best an unknown salvation status. At least one protagonist takes pleasure in the deaths of those who caused him pain. That was realistic, but not uplifting...I felt like I might as well have been reading a secular book, though a secular book would have likely had sex outside of marriage and cursing.
Gut reaction: 2 out of 5. Technically, it was a good book, and it did keep me reading. I just feel sad because I saw precious little hope in this world. I would have rather read more about the consequences and possible redemption of characters who took the cure in Beckon, and less about monsters (human and not).
Bonus points: 5 out of 5.
Recommended for: Fans of exciting suspense/horror/monster books. This is potentially a very good crossover book for non-Christian readers who just want an exciting book, and a perfect book for Christian readers who want to be creeped out and disturbed but don't want explicit content (except violence).
Probably not good for: People with a fear of spiders or insects; people who expect happy endings; people expecting an explicitly Christian book.
Total Rating: 3.3 out of 5 stars
Here are the other participants in the CSFF Blog Tour. Check them out!
Thomas Clayton Booher
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Rebecca LuElla Miller
*I received a copy of this book free from Tyndale in exchange for this review.*