by Dee Henderson
Published 2000, 2002
So some of you may remember when I read the O’Malley series last spring. The thrillers, by this same author, followed a family of adopted brothers and sisters. They were not only excellent mysteries, but well-written Christian fiction as well (a category of books that I consistently judge quite harshly, as nothing annoys me as much as clumsy, shallow, let’s-just-slap-on-a-Jesus-bandaid Christian lit). I’ve put off reading her Uncommon Heroes series for a while because, confession: I judge them by their covers.
As you can tell by said covers, these books are about individuals in the United States military. Without getting super political, I have to say that, over the last several years, my views have been trending isolationist (in that sort of “What the heck are we really doing all over the world when we could use money domestically to fix problems here at home that seem more important and relevant and look a lot more like our actual business??” way), so I had to read these books by setting aside that mentality a bit. I can definitely appreciate the heroism of the actions and lives of the individuals involved (and my isolationist feelings in no way wish to belittle the lives of those who have chosen to serve in the military), but I do have to consciously squelch the part of me that keeps muttering But why the heck are you flying over Afghanistan anyway?!?!
At any rate. True Devotion is about a young widow whose husband was killed during a SEAL operation. Three years have passed since his death, and Kelly is slowly rebuilding her life. At the beginning of the book, Kelly almost dies while rescuing a young man from drowning in the ocean (she’s a lifeguard). That event causes her to reassess where her life has gone since the death of her husband. She realizes that her spiritual life has become a farce and determines to get herself back on track.
Kelly isn’t the only one doing reevaluation, though. Joe, or Bear, is the commanding officer for the SEAL team Kelly’s husband was a part of, and the two men were best friends. Bear has been a true friend to Kelly since her husband’s death, but Kelly’s near drowning makes him realize that he loves her and desires more from their relationship than being friends.
In True Valor we meet Grace and Bruce. Grace is naval aviator who flies a F/A-18 Hornet from an aircraft carrier, while Bruce is an Air Force Pararescue Jumper (PJ). The two are friends because Gracie’s cousin/feels-like-a-brother is dating Bruce’s sister. While they are definitely interested in each other, their careers have both of them traveling all over the world. And so they begin a correspondence, and much of the book is comprised of their letters.
These are fine books and, considering that the jobs of the main characters, surprisingly relaxing reading. They are definitely more of love stories than thrillers. Unlike the O’Malley series, wherein there was a definite Bad Guy, these folks are just living their lives. There is an almost-villain in True Devotion, but even that guy feels more like he is just a victim of circumstances than a true Bad Guy.
So, as thrillers, they’re pretty terrible. But as simple novels – Christian literature with a love story – they’re actually quite good. Henderson draws characters very well, creating people who are personable, realistic, and likable. She handles the building of these romantic relationships under difficult circumstances very well as the couples work through the logistical and emotional difficulties realistically but without dragging the plot down. Conversations flow naturally, making the relationship-building believable.
The Christian part is handled with grace, as always. Henderson, in my mind, truly epitomizes what all Christian literature should be – the religious part of the book flows naturally through the characters’ actions and conversations. No unnecessary sermonettes or forced prayers. Henderson’s characters are intelligent, forward-thinking, and proactive. They don’t sit about ringing their hands and waiting for God to “do something,” but they display a trust and faith in His ultimate goodness that makes the conversations about Him that they have feel completely natural.
In the O’Malley books, there was usually one character who had not yet become a Christian, and the book sort of followed their path to salvation. In the Uncommon Heroes stories, the characters are already Christians, and are working to understand exactly how their faith works out in real life. I really enjoyed that aspect. Christianity is not about one moment of faith or one prayer offered, but is a constant, life-long progress that is not always easy or simple.
All in all, these are fine books. There are a total of four of them (I just started the third today), and I doubt that they will make my forever-classics list, but they are solid, pleasant reads with just enough story to keep them interesting.