From the opening line where Maggie clutches a note from her husband that declares, "It's finished..." until the final page, this book grips the reader's emotions. Labeled on the cover as "A Christian Chiller," Kathryn Mackel plunges her characters into desperation followed by deeper desperation. It makes for page-turning fiction.
Magician Joshua Lazarus, his young wife Maggie, and his sister Geneva have been struggling to make a living and travel in an old camper. The trio is nearly on their last dollar. Out on the beach late at night, Lazarus rescues a wealthy and depressed former actress, Julia Madsen, from committing suicide, through listening to the "spirits."
The magic show is transformed into a new television program called "The Other Side," where Joshua listens to the spirits and speaks for them. The show becomes an instant hit and a magazine called StarField interviews Lazarus and writes about the program. "StarField called 'The Other Side' a cultural phenomenon, another quest to answer what happens after death. What will happen to me after death? Joshua supplied a user-friendly answer. The departed forget the pain but not the love..." During the pilot program, Lazarus speaks to a young girl, Tanya Roper, wrestling with her recent abortion and the pressure from her mother. The generic "prophetic"-like speech propels Tayna to kill her mother and then herself the next day. Penn Roper, the father, vows revenge and takes up a secret identity as Ben Cord, a security expert working for Lazarus. Roper/Cord uses his security expertise to trap Lazarus. It's only one of several plot strands in this novel.
The well-crafted characters, intriguing plot and dialogue kept me turning the pages toward a chilling ending that rivals many secular fiction books in this genre. Reading a Mackel book is like riding a roller coaster blindfolded. You believe the ride is leveling off and almost finished, just as the characters are relatively safe. Then the plot plunges around another twist and the reader hangs on tight for another jolt.
In a realistic way, Maggie meets Jesus through the lifestyle evangelism of Amy Howland, who runs a ministry for children called Safe Haven in a poor neighborhood. The spiritual battle is full-blown between the spiritualists and the Christians, and the plot reminds us of our necessity to follow truth from the Bible --- not the false truth from mankind. Woven into the fabric of this book is solid biblical teaching about the occult and the necessity for each of us to cling in faith to Jesus. But the Bible teaching doesn't come in a contrived manner. For example, when Maggie, the new Christian, talks with her husband Joshua about his work in the spirit world, the worlds collide and he says, "So it's come down to this. Me against you, Maggie?"
"'She grabbed him, 'Not you against me. I'm so afraid that you're setting yourself up so it's you against God.'"
"He closed his eyes. When he spoke, his voice was faint. 'Maggie, can't you just be a good wife and let me get about my business?'"
"She leaned into him. The body that had minutes ago molded so perfectly to hers was not rigid, unyielding. 'I don't know what a good wife is supposed to do when her husband is talking to dead people. I have to pray and find out.'"
"So your God is the final authority now, huh? Not me?"
I recommend THE DEPARTED as a page-turner --- but probably something you want to read in the daylight.
--- Reviewed by W. Terry Whalin, writer and editor in Scottsdale, Arizona. His latest book is BOOK PROPOSALS THAT $ELL, 21 SECRETS TO SPEED YOUR SUCCESS (Write Now Publications). http://www.bookproposals.ws.
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