Saturday, October 18, 2014

Playing Saint by Zachary Bartels

There is a new author on the Christian mystery scene and I really like his debut novel.

The characters in the novel are great. There's Parker Saint (a name he took on for his TV celebrity persona). He's a popular TV preacher who speaks about creating your destiny – forget the real gospel. He'd been caught on video, forcefully acting out his displeasure to an airline employee. He's sort of blackmailed into helping the police solve what looks like an occult serial killer. If he does that, his image wrecking tirade will never see the light of day.

And there are the three priests from the Vatican – secret operatives. They are great. What an unusual trio of men, at least one of whom is gun toting. They are trying to find a centuries old relic and end up getting involved in the murder case.

This novel has all the elements I like in a mystery. There has to be murders. Here we have several with mysterious images painted on the victims (with their own blood). There has to be well developed and believable characters involved. There has to be something I learn about in the course of the novel (Catholic artifacts in this case). There has to be a suspenseful end (and this one had me whipping pages as fast as I could read the words).

I like it when the main character grows or matures during the novel. Parker Saint comes to the point where he knows he is way over his head. His positive attitude, “create your destiny” preaching doesn't cut it when he is confronted with vicious demonic evil. He has to face the crisis of what he believes, what he has been preaching, and what the Bible says.

The interaction between Saint and the Vatican operatives is great. The priests know their stuff. They understand the gospel and the reality of evil much better than Protestant (their name for Saint). The conversations between them are enlightening, especially about occult symbols both recent and ancient.

Since this is a “Christian” mystery, there needs to be a spiritual aspect to the novel and there was. The difference between a positive self-help message and a sermon is clearly pointed out. Saint is told to ask the question: “Could this sermon make sense without a crucified and risen Savior? If the answers is yes, throw it out, because it's not a Christian sermon. It's advice, life coaching, pep talks, whatever you call it, but it's not a Christian sermon.” (232) Wow, chew on that one for a while.

As I said, I really liked this novel. It is great fiction yet it also contains some very important spiritual lessons. Christian fiction rarely gets any better than this novel. And since there is a reading group guide included, this would make a terrific book for reading groups.

Zachary Bartels is an award-winning preacher and Bible teacher and serves as senior pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Lansing, Michigan. He has a B.A. in world religions from Cornerstone University and M.Div. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He lives in Lansing, Michigan with his wife and their son. Find out more at

Thomas Nelson, 344 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

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