The Pawn, by Steven James (Revell, 2007)
FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers’ assignment is to find—and stop—a serial killer in North Carolina. Even though few law enforcement officers are familiar with his approach, his success using high-tech geographical profiling makes him highly respected.
Pat comes into this case with troubles of his own: his wife’s recent death and his step-daughter’s attitude. And while he’s glad to have an old friend on the investigative team, he’s less than thrilled to discover the agent in charge still bears a grudge from their last meeting.
Steven James does an excellent job of pulling readers into the characters’ heads. With Pat, this is great. He’s intelligent, interesting, and has a low-key sense of humour I like.
Scenes with Pat’s step-daughter Tessa or with other characters were fine too. Each time I hit a villain scene I read timidly, but I made it through.
The characters are rich and have depths we won’t fully explore without reading the whole series. Some of the relationships in this book, most notably the one between Pat and Tessa, reach a new level but definitely have room for further growth. Even the dark characters have depth, albeit disturbing.
As for the plot, “masterfully crafted” is perhaps over-used but here it fits. Looking back at how everything unfolded, all I can say is “Wow.” So many threads and details, all drawn together into a satisfying conclusion.
The novel’s intense delivery and the killer’s deep point of view reminded me of Dean Koontz’ The Good Guy. That was another can’t-put-down thriller that skirted the very edge of my comfort zone. The plots—and characters—aren’t similar, but both novels give the same feeling.
The Pawn’s pace is fast, yet Steven James slips in some interesting insights and thoughtful language. Remembering his wife’s death, Pat says, “Spring was trying to unfold; winter trying to die. She passed away in between the seasons, in the middle of the empty spaces of the year.” (p. 138)
One advantage of the villain scenes is that readers see more of the danger than Pat and his team do. The author makes us aware of the ticking clock on a few different occasions, and it effectively ups the tension. (For example, he introduces us to a woman who has no idea she’s the killer’s next target but we know, and she’s a nice lady.)
The Pawn is published by a Christian house, and I should point out that it’s a fine read for any thriller-lover, regardless of their faith stance. Pat has only a hazy belief in God, mostly anger-based after losing his wife. He remembers conversations—arguments, mainly—with a pastor he and I don’t think much of, and occasional wise faith words from a deacon. The author’s faith shows through, but it’s a subtle glow and not anything preachy or overt.
Why have I not heard of Steven James before now? Tender-hearted chicken that I am, I’ll need to recover a bit before taking on the rest of the series, but I look forward to spending more time with Pat and Tessa in The Rook and The Knight.
You can learn more about Steven James at his blog, Musings and Meanderings, and his website, and I’m delighted to see he has some highly-acclaimed Christian non-fiction. I want to check out Story and Sailing Between the Stars. Certain brief moments in The Pawn convinced me he can do justice to thoughtful non-fiction too.
The Pawn is available in bookstores and online at Chapters-Indigo, Amazon.ca, Amazon.com… and the best price I saw was at Christianbook.com. Also, if you’re looking for a copy of Sailing Between the Stars, check out Christianbook.com—when I looked, it was only $1.99 US. Plus shipping, of course.
A non-writer friend also told me about this book recently. Steven James was a new name to me too. I’m going to read something by him one of these days – once my review pile has dwindled a little.
I’m impressed by his diversity — from fast-paced thrillers and all the complexity of plotting and character development, to thoughtful Christian non-fiction.