“True Devotion” and “True Valor”

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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.

 

The Rescuer

by Dee Henderson

Published 2003

This is the final book in O’Malley series, and focuses on Stephen, who is a paramedic.  Completely burned out from his job (driving a squad to emergencies in Chicago is no tea party), emotionally exhausted from the illness and death of his youngest sister, and frustrated because the rest of his family have all become Christians and he can’t understand why, Stephen leaves for a long break.  When he returns, he buys a small farm in a small town outside of Chicago, and is ready to start his new life.

I really enjoyed this book, as I have the entire series.  This one involved a jewel thief parallel story line that seemed a bit obscure to me, but Stephen’s love interest, Meghan, is one of my favorite characters in the entire series, so the book was a bit of a toss-up for me.  :-D  I will say that it contains more excellent conversations about religion.  I greatly appreciated this exchange–

“Why does it feel like God has conditions on loving me?”

“He doesn’t. You’re projecting your own list of what you think He should expect. It gets pretty intense when you realize He accepts you despite the fact that you’re a mess as the moment … Jesus is the kind who moves in, says I love you anyway, and then starts helping repair the mess. He means it when He says He loves you as you are, not based on what you’ve done. But He loves you too much to leave you in that chaos once you know Him.”

Henderson manages to capture that beautiful tension of the Christian life–Christ accepts us for who we are, without demanding us to “clean up” our lives in order to approach Him, but once we give our lives to Him, He helps us to clean them up, working alongside of us–a holy life is a result of a relationship with Christ, not a prerequisite.

I do feel like this book ends a bit abruptly.  We’ve traveled along with this family for six fat books, and then it’s just sort of “and everyone lived happily ever after” kind of feel and that’s the end.   Still, I really enjoyed this series as a whole, and this book in particular is an easy 4/5.

The Healer

by Dee Henderson

So, I was just writing a review for the last book in this series (The Protector) when I realized that I had somehow never reviewed The Healer?!?  Which is a shame, because it is a really good one.  So.  We will fix that now.  :-D

This is one of the O’Malley books, and focuses on the story of Rachel.  She works for the Red Cross as a trauma psychologist, traveling to areas that have had some kind of disaster, and working with the people there to overcome their stress and terror.  It involves lots of talking, lots of hugs, and recognizing that we, as humans, cling to things that are simple and small when our lives are spiraling out of control.  Rachel is excellent at giving people back a semblance of normalcy.  More, she doesn’t just abandon people after the initial difficulty has been overcome–she frequently hands out personalized business cards so that people with whom she has spoken can contact her later if they are struggling with returning to normal life.

Rachel is the O’Malley that I admire the most, honestly.  She is calm and steady, the kind of person you automatically turn to in a time of need.

We first met Rachel in-depth in the book prior to this one, The Protector.  While that book focused on her brother Jack, Rachel’s story was also a large part of it.  Between that book and this one, Rachel has also become a Christian, so this book, rather than focusing on her journey to Christ, focuses more on the struggles of a brand-new Christian–learning to roll trouble and confusion onto His shoulders, and to lean on Him when the way becomes rough.

I have to say, one thing that I really, really, really love about these books is the way that they value friendship.  The O’Malleys are a group of adults who have basically pledged to be life-long friends.  They have legally adopted one another by changing their names, and they choose to stay together and support one another.  And even as they are all getting married and such, those new spouses are brought into the family as well–true friends, accepted, loved, protected, challenged.  The friendships exhibited in these books are beautiful to me.

Throughout this book, Jennifer, the sister with cancer, is getting sicker, and that is also part of Rachel’s struggle–trying to understand prayer, healing (or the lack thereof) and how this all works.  The conversations are real and gritty, and I personally fell in love with Rachel’s love interest, Cole.  Such a good man.

Anyway, these books are great; I love them.  The mysteries are decent, the characters good, the conversations excellent.  If all Christian fiction was like this, I would be a much happier woman.

4/5.

 

The Protector

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by Dee Henderson

Published 2001

Sorry, I got the last three books of this series from the library in a single-bound volume, so I don’t have very good pictures for them.  Anyway.

In this fourth installment of the O’Malley series, we follow the story of Jack, a firefighter.  And while the other three books have stayed fairly focused on the individual sibling chosen as that book’s hero, this book actually spends a lot of time also following Jack’s sister, Rachel.  Jack is working as a firefighter and is close friends with Cole, who, among other things, does arson investigation.  Cole is interested in dating Rachel, and so all the main characters tie together harmoniously.

A series of arson fires seem to center around Jack and his shift, and Cole cannot figure out why.  As usual, the story pacing is excellent.  In this book, the fact that Jennifer, the youngest sister, is sick with cancer, is much more to the foreground.  That has always been something going on throughout the rest of the series (it is the catalyst for the fact that this entire family is reevaluating its religious perspective), in this book it becomes a more active part of the story as Jack, Rachel, and the rest of the siblings continue to wrestle with the fact that Jennifer may, in fact, die.

Jack, of course, is also not without his own love interest, and Cassie’s story is also an interesting one.  An ex-firefighter, she is still recovering from a major injury caused during a fire the year before.  As a Christian, she is working to keep her life in perspective, and it is good to see both her and Cole, also a Christian, work through some issues from that angle.  (Becoming a Christian does not magically fix all the problems in your life, and I appreciate the way that Henderson deals with that truth.)

All in all, another good story and an excellent addition to the series.  4/5.

The Truth-Seeker

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by Dee Henderson

Published 2001

In this third of the O’Malley books, Henderson records the story of Lisa O’Malley, a forensic pathologist who works in Chicago (most of the O’Malleys are centered there) and is very, very good at her job.  Lisa is actually one of my favorites of the siblings.  She has a strong sense of humor and loves animals and her house.  Throughout the story, Lisa is working on cold cases, trying to find new leads using more modern technology that wasn’t available at the time of the crimes.  Meanwhile, her brother Marcus’s partner, Quinn, is also working on a cold case–the murder of his father.

This was an interesting and intense book, but the conclusion felt a bit weak to me.  There was a lot of  build up tying several cases together, but the motive was never completely or adequately explained.  So while it’s still a good story, it’s not as strong as the others in the series.  3/5.

The Guardian

by Dee Henderson

So I’m a total slacker: I not only didn’t take a picture of this book, I didn’t write down the publish year, either.  Ah well.

This is the second book in the O’Malley series, the hero of the story is the oldest O’Malley, Marcus.  As a U.S. Marshall, Marcus spends his time traveling around the country protecting important people, and he starts this book watching a judge–who gets murdered that night.  There is one witness to the murder, and suddenly the young woman Marcus had met earlier the in the evening becomes his number one priority, as the murderer is trying to make sure that she never has a chance to testify against him.

Per usual, the pacing is excellent and the questions raised (and answered) quite good.  4/5.

The Negotiator

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by Dee Henderson

Published 2000

Okay, so this is officially the first book in the O’Malley series.  I talked a bit about it in my review of the prequel for this series, Danger in the Shadows.  This series is about a group of seven adults who, as children, lived in the same orphanage.  (A home for older foster kids who were basically too old to really be “adoptable.”)  There, they became close friends, and adopted each other as brothers and sisters.  When they became adults, they  legally changed their last names to be the same–O’Malley.

The books start when they are all in their 30’s and well-established in life.  They are still very close, and that family-ness is a large part of what drives these books.

In order to enjoy them, you just have to accept the fact that somehow, these penniless orphans have managed to become a group of highly-educated and important people.  Kate, the heroine of this book, is a well-known hostage negotiator in Chicago.  Marcus is a U.S. Marshall.  Stephen is a paramedic, Jack a firefighter, Rachel a psychologist who works for the Red Cross, Jennifer a pediatrician, and Lisa is forensic pathologist.  But if you can give Henderson that caveat, the books are excellent reading.

As I said in Danger in the Shadows, Henderson does an unusually good job incorporating realistic religious discussion into her books without being flippant, preachy, or shallow.  Her characters struggle with very real problems, and she addresses those with serious answers, but in a way that fits into the natural flow of the book, helping the story move along instead of bogging it down.

At the beginning of The Negotiator, Kate finds out that her sister, Jennifer, has been diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer; her prognosis is bleak.  However, Jennifer has just become a Christian.  Her acceptance of this faith is the springboard for the series, as her sickness draws the family together and begins to force them to face issues that they have kept buried for a long time.

So, Kate is called into a negotiation situation–a man has strapped himself with explosives and entered a bank, and is threatening to blow the place up.  One of the customers in the bank happens to be an FBI agent whose name is familiar to those of us who have read Danger in the Shadows–it’s Dave, Sara’s sister.  Through a series of events, Dave and Kate continue to  be thrown together as what appeared to be a straight-forward and isolated hostage situation in the bank is actually only the beginning of trouble; an airplane explosion throws everyone into the midst of major mystery.

This is a great suspense story.  The story is well-paced, the characters very likable, the sibling rivalry and affection fun, the questions about life real.  Definite recommendation, 4/5.

Danger in the Shadows

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by Dee Henderson

Published 1999

Even though I am a Christian, I am not usually impressed by “Christian” fiction.  Too often it is shallow, fluffy kind of writing with band-aid answers to spiritual questions.  Frankly, it’s embarrassing.

But Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series (of which Danger in the Shadows is the prequel) does not fall into that category.  The series is intense, with well-paced stories, good mysteries, likable people, and Christians who are actually wrestling with real problems.  Henderson is not afraid to face real questions about faith–about why bad things happen to good people, how God can be good when so many people who claim to follow Him are jerks, about faith and the resurrection and trust.  And while she doesn’t just brush those questions off, her writing isn’t full of sermons, either.  Just brief, realistic dialogue that raises and addresses questions naturally throughout the story.

My only real beef with these stories is that you have to give Henderson a lot of leeway for the initial set-up, as her stories are about people with rather unusual jobs and situations.  A U.S. Marshall, a hostage negotiator, a forensic investigator, an FBI agent–these books aren’t really about your next-door neighbor.  Still.  It’s fiction.

So.  More on the O’Malleys when their time comes (The Negotiator is technically the first book in the series).  For now, Danger in the Shadows.  

This book is about a young woman, Sara, who is under FBI protection (conveniently lead by her brother, Dave) because, as the daughter of a diplomat, she and her twin sister were kidnapped as children and held hostage; her sister died.  The kidnapper was never caught, and has continued to stalk Sara throughout her life.  In the book, all of these events come together a rather climactic fashion when Sara meets and falls in love with Adam, who happens to be a famous (retired) football player.

The story is exciting and well-paced, and the love story is nice but not annoying.  I will say as a caution that basically all of Henderson’s book involve a Christian falling love with a non-Christian, and then the non-Christian becomes a Christian through various circumstances and then everything ends happily.  However, I would not personally recommend that as a very likely scenario; Christian/non-Christian dating more often results in complications and stress.  Still, because it’s fiction, you know everything is going to end well, so you just go with it.

An enjoyable read if you like suspense, and a book that I think you will enjoy even if you aren’t really into the Christian scene.  4/5.