The Constantine Conspiracy, by Gary E. Parker (Revell, 2010)
Wealthy, freewheeling bachelor Rick Carson’s annual retreat with his father turns into disaster when the elder Carson is found dead. Only a skilled assassin could have penetrated their security system, so the evidence points to an inside job—perhaps to Rick himself.
The Carson ranch backs onto a national park, and Ranger Shannon Bridge is dispatched to the site until the police can arrive.
Rick can’t risk being detained as a suspect. Instinct tells him if he doesn’t find his father’s killer fast, nobody ever will. He flees out the back door as the police knock on the front.
Believing him to be innocent, Shannon lets him go and offers her help if he’ll trust her.
Meanwhile, at various points across the US, individuals hired by a man matching the assassin’s description commit often-violent social activism, each one claiming to do it in the name of Jesus.
Rick and Shannon are players caught up in a conspiracy of powerful allies united against what they perceive as their greatest threat: Christianity.
The plot is cleverly constructed, and with a subject matter that could come from present-day headlines it should attract plenty of readers.
I prefer a deeper third-person point of view, where the reader develops a stronger emotional connection to the characters. Gary E. Parker uses a distant third-person narration, or perhaps it’s a masterfully-done omniscient. It feels more impersonal, but it’s probably an attribute of the conspiracy-intrigue genre.
The actions and settings work well in the “show-don’t-tell” convention, but to me the thoughts and emotions felt “told, not shown”. Instead of reading that Rick or Shannon was unsure, curious etc, I wanted to see it in their speech and actions.
The novel does have some very strong lines, like the description of Shannon moving “like a woman accustomed to going places and not afraid to arrive.” (page 106)
What bothered me most was the frequent dangling of hidden information. When we meet Shannon we’re told she has a deeper mission behind the park ranger role: a mission she doesn’t know when will begin or end, and one she fears and yet hopes for.
It would have worked better to let us meet her as a ranger and discover the rest on a need-to-know basis.
Readers should be intrigued by the hints instead of resentful about being kept out of the know. Shannon is the biggest example of this, but even minor bits of information feel like jealously-guarded things instead of like nuggets doled out as needed.
I also had trouble with the Carter ranch’s high-tech voice-recognition controls. It’s great to have a computer that turns on your lights and preheats your shower on command, but how does it know when you want your words transmitted over the intercom—and to whom—and when you’re having a private conversation?
The spiritual thread is done well. Shannon takes her Christianity seriously, and Rick has been brought up to hold it in contempt. As the attraction between them grows, the faith issue seems insurmountable. Unlike some novels, the author treats both characters’ views with respect and makes no attempt to force Rick into a quick conversion so the couple can get married on the final page.
After a wild ride, the novel comes to a satisfying finish that leaves room for a sequel. Suffice to say there’s still a significant threat to Rick’s and Shannon’s lives, and they reach a tentative truce on the faith issue. If you like conspiracy theories and fast-paced intrigue, this one’s for you.
American author Gary E. Parker is multi-published in fiction and non-fiction. You can read the first chapter of The Constantine Conspiracy here.