by Randy Alcorn

Published 2007

While Deadline and Dominion were published back-to-back in the mid-90’s, Alcorn waited ten years to follow up with a third novel.  Deception centers around Detective Ollie Chandler, and was by far and away my favorite out of the trilogy, and just an all-around fun, entertaining, and challenging book.

Like Dominion, Deception makes more sense if you’ve read the previous books, but is very readable as a stand-alone.  (Actually, I recommend it that way, especially if you’re not terribly interested in Alcorn’s theology.)  Chandler is the narrator of the book, and while I’m not usually a huge fan of first-person narratives, Chandler’s voice is what makes this story so much fun.  His dry humor had me laughing out loud on multiple occasions.  Chandler, a detective himself, has a great love for the classics, and there are so many references to Sherlock, Poirot, and many others.  I loved it.

After the tone, leave your name, number, and the location of the money.  I’ll get back to you as soon as it’s safe for you to come out of hiding.

How can you not like a guy who has that as his voicemail message??  (And after all, this is the same guy who got written up for answering phone calls at Christmas time, “Ho-ho-ho-homicide!”)

As with many thrillers, Deception starts with a murder.  But as the story unwinds, it appears that no one is as they appear, and even Ollie isn’t sure that he has an alibi.  While this book is too humorous to be a serious thriller, it definitely walks that line much stronger than the previous two books.  While no serious procedural, the mystery element is much stronger and drives the story well.

The only problem with reading this book on its own is that you miss a lot of Ollie’s background from the other books.  In Dominion, Ollie was the one helping Clarence solve the mystery of the murder of Clarence’s sister and daughter.  In that book, which focused so much on race, we learned a great deal about Ollie, who was almost fired over false accusations of beating a man because he was black.  While that’s a long way in the past at the point of this book, it’s still a part of Ollie’s life that shaped, and in many ways embittered, him.

A widower, Ollie speaks frequently and fondly of his wife, whom he misses.  Since her death, he’s found himself drinking more and more.  Unlike many other detective novels, however, Ollie’s alcoholism is never treated as something normal or good or even as that “edgy” background for the hero – it’s destructive and he knows it, and it’s interesting to watch him begin to work through it.

The dialogue is great, and Alcorn introduces some fantastic one-off characters, too.  Throughout the story, Clarence is following Ollie around during his investigation as part of a “good PR” policy put in place by the chief of police (whom Ollie cordially hates).  At one point, Ollie and Clarence stop to visit a witness who may have seen someone entering the victim’s home.  The whole thing reads like an Abbott and Costello sketch, including a man who, according to the uncooperative witness, was “short, mostly bald, pudgy, and looked like Abraham Lincoln.”

In Deadline, Jake became a Christian towards the beginning of the story.  In Dominion, Clarence was a long-time Christian wrestling with a sort of mid-life-faith crisis.  In Deception, Ollie is unabashedly unreligious and completely skeptical.  Although Jake and Clarence are two of his best friends, Ollie thinks their whole God-thing is a bunch of hogwash, and doesn’t hesitate to say so.  The conversations about religion are natural and well-written.

“This guy Frederick getting killed,” I said.  “It’s another example of why I don’t believe in God.”

“You believe in free choice?”  Jake asked.


“Doesn’t free choice demand the freedom to choose evil?”

“Not if it causes this much suffering.”

“How much suffering is acceptable?  Can you have real choices without consequences, both good and bad?”

I shrugged.

“Isn’t it inconsistent,” Clarence piped in, “to say it’s good for God to give us free choice, but then say He shouldn’t allow evil consequences from evil choices?”

Whether you agree or not, the conversations are still thought-provoking, and scattered enough that they aren’t the main premise of the book.  The friendship between the three men is good to see, and the themes of truth and deception are woven throughout in a very readable way.

As the story unfolds, Ollie becomes more and more certain that the killer is someone in the detective department, which doesn’t do a whole lot to make him popular around the office.  Despite his personal problems, Ollie is a solid thinker and good at his job.  The book concludes satisfyingly (if slightly randomly) and, interestingly, with Ollie still undecided about the whole Christianity question.

This book was a super fun read, and, unlike the other two, I could hardly put it down.  Ollie was the most fun voice I’ve read in a long time, and I totally wanted to adopt him as my uncle or something.  If you’re in the mood for a not-too-serious thriller, this one is definitely a good time.



by Randy Alcorn

Published 1996

Dominion is a loose sequel to Deadline, in that it shares several of the same characters.  In Deadline, the main protagonist was journalist/columnist Jake; in Dominion we follow the story of his friend and coworker, Clarence Abernathy.  Clarence is an African American, and the main topic of this book is race, a subject that (I felt) Alcorn handles deftly.

If you’ll remember, my main complaint about Deadline was that it was all over the place.  Alcorn seemed to be using his novel as an attempt to touch on every single sensitive, controversial social topic around.  Thankfully, his focus is much better in Dominion, leading to a stronger story, and a more palatable message.  The mystery/thriller aspect of this story was also much better than Deadline’s, again, I think, because Alcorn was more focused.

Clarence is a successful, comfortable, middle-aged man, with a wife and children, living in the suburbs of Portland.  He’s worked hard throughout his life, and dreams of doing even better – and of some day leaving the city behind entirely and moving to the country.  His sister still lives in a poorer section of town, and Clarence is constantly trying to get her to move.  She insists that she loves her neighborhood and the sense of community, despite the crime and gangs in the area.  When Clarence’s sister and her daughter are murdered during a drive-by shooting, Clarence is determined that this apparent gang-crime isn’t just going to end up in an “Unsolved” file.  Teaming up with Jake’s detective friend, Ollie, Clarence begins to try to find justice for his family.

I’m going to start by saying that Alcorn is white.  So you can look at his story one of two ways: you can look at it and say, “Wow, this white dude doesn’t know what it’s really like to be black, so I don’t care what he has to say,” or you can say, “Wow, here’s a white dude at least trying to understand what’s going on, so let’s listen to what he’s got going on.”  Race is a topic of great sensitivity, and I’m not going to presume to judge  his writing as a black person would be able to.  But from  my middle-class white-girl perspective, I think that Alcorn did a decent job of challenging his readers to not just blow off the topic of race, but to be willing to reach out and work together towards healing and progress.

In Deadline, Jake became a Christian and began to study what that meant.  In Dominion, Clarence has been a Christian for years, but, with the brutal death of his sister and niece, he is struggling through a crisis of faith.  When circumstances force him and his family to move into his sister’s old house, right in the middle of the neighborhood he spent most of his life trying to escape, Clarence has to face many of the demons he kept successfully at bay.  Through conversations with Jake, who genuinely wants to understand what Clarence’s race struggles are, and with Ollie, who’s a fantastically honest and hilarious character (and, thankfully, the main protagonist of the third and final book of the series – Ollie is by far and away my favorite!), we’re able to start to understand Clarence’s difficulties. For instance, he talks a lot about how, because he has become a successful professional, he sometimes feels distanced and judged by his family.  During a conversation with Jake he says:

“It’s darned if you do, darned if you don’t.  I hear the pleas to ‘give back’ to my community.  By living in the suburbs I’ve supposedly lost touch with my people and my cultural roots.  Right.  Like all blacks are supposed to live in constant danger in drug-infested, crime-infested neighborhoods, and both whites and blacks resent it when they don’t.  Any white person who lives in poverty and a crime area, when he earns enough money, what does he do?”

“Usually he moves out,” Jake said.

“Obviously, and that’s perfectly fine with most people.  But when I moved out, it was like a betrayal, like I wasn’t being black.  Hey, I was just being human.  I want my kids to grow up safe and have a good education.  What’s wrong with that?”

I think that Alcorn also does an admirable job of balancing Clarence’s legitimate issues with his perceived ones.  For instance, a couple from somewhere in Asia (I feel so racist not remembering where!  I believe it was Vietnam) opened a convenience store in his neighborhood, and Clarence is offended by the way that they never hand him his change – they set it on the counter and let him pick it up.  Later, he finds out that this is a cultural thing for them, and they do it as a sign of respect for their customers no matter their race; he was over sensitized because he was expecting an insult.  However, at another point, Clarence points out to Jake that the girl who works the counter at one of their favorite cafes treats the two men completely differently – while bright and perky with everyone else, she’s subdued and avoids eye contact with Clarence.

At one point in the book there is a brilliant conversation that I somehow failed to mark.  But basically Jake tells Clarence that he really appreciates the sharing that Clarence has been doing, because Jake has never really realized that race was still such a big issue.  He tells Clarence that he’s never really thought about it before.  Clarence responds by saying that he thinks about it all the time.  Jake says that maybe if people like himself thought about race a little more, than people like Clarence wouldn’t have think about it all the time.  That’s really the conclusion Alcorn draws on the whole topic.  The road to healing on this incredibly divisive and emotional issue is for whites to think about race a little more so non-whites can think about it a little less.

The rest of the story is actually really good, too.  Like I said, the “thriller” part of the story works a lot better in this book than it did in Deadline, and consequently the book doesn’t bog down nearly as much as the previous novel.  I will say that this book was published in 1996, and Deadline was published in 1994, and even though it gives me a pang to say it, these books do feel a little dated.  (I mean Deadline is all about a newspaper – how 90s is that?)  There are several conversations in this book about the O.J. Simpson trial, which was hot news at the time, but I had to actually do a bit of reading to refresh the story in my mind (since I was like 12 at the time).  I kept finding myself wondering what Clarence’s opinion would be about the whole Trayvon Martin scenario instead.

Overall, while I would say Deadline was a 3, Dominion is a comfortable 4, and definitely quite readable on its own.  While you may understand more of the  back story for Jake by reading Deadline first, each novel reads strongly as an individual.




by Randy Alcorn

Published 1994

What’s worse than being in a car accident that kills your two best friends?  Finding out that it wasn’t an accident…

So this is supposedly a thriller, but really ended up being more about one man’s journey from skeptic to believer in the Christian faith, with some random murder/investigative action thrown in.  Parts of this story I really enjoyed, but I felt like the actual ‘thriller’ part wasn’t a natural part of the rest of the tale.

Jake is a newspaper columnist for a big newspaper in Seattle.  (He’s syndicated, now, so his column is actually read across the country a couple times a week.)  Fifty years old, divorced, a Seahawks fan, Jake seems like a typical middle-aged guy.  His two best friends, Doc and Finney, have been his best friends since childhood.  They graduated high school together, fought in Vietnam together, got married at the same time, have kids the same age – despite the different directions their lives have taken on a personal level, they have managed to stay close through all these years.

Doc is a successful and wealthy surgeon.  An atheist and a philanderer, Doc’s moral compass seems to point at whatever he feels is right at the time.  Finney, on the other hand, became a Christian in his 20’s, and has been walking the straight and narrow ever since.  Jake, as he has his whole life, tries to find the middle ground between the two.  While he agrees with Doc objectively, he often finds himself disagreeing with Doc’s personal life.  However, he can’t understand why Finney is so insistent on this idea of Truth.  A social liberal, Jake frequently debates with Finney on topics like abortion, extramarital sex, and homosexual marriage.

Everything changes one Sunday afternoon when the three go to pick up pizza at halftime.  They’ve been watching the football game like they do every Sunday, with their wives hanging out in the other room (even though they’ve been divorced three years, Jake’s ex-wife Janet still comes by most Sundays to spend with “the girls”), and head out to get the pizza.  Doc’s car goes out of control and lands all three of them in intensive care.  Spoiler alert:  two of the three don’t make it.

Alcorn’s story touches on every social hot-topic you can think of:  abortion, extramarital sex, homosexual marriage – those are just the beginning.  The existence of heaven and hell, racial quotas, racism in general, feminism, sex ed in schools, whether teens need parental consent to get an abortion, charter schools, and loads more that I probably can’t remember right now.  Alcorn isn’t afraid to tackle these topics head-on, through letters Finney wrote before he died, interviews Jake has with people, and articles Jake is writing himself for his columns.  When Jake finds out that the accident wasn’t accidental, he begins a quest to find out who could have done this dire deed.  Because it was Doc’s car that was sabotaged, he looks to find any potential enemies of Doc, and he immediately begins to wonder whether it was those crazy anti-abortionists.  This leads to lots of conversations with the pro-lifers.

Through it all, Jake is also having lots of other personal issues with his family.  When he finds out his teenage daughter is pregnant and was on the verge of committing suicide, Jake is forced to face whether his views on assisted suicide, abortion, and “free sex” really work out in the long run of the real world.

Alcorn has a lot of thought-provoking things to say on sensitive topics, and, overall, I feel like he works them into the story fairly well, although at times it feels like a bit much.  I think this story would have really benefited from a narrower set of topics to tackle, because, in the end, the book comes off rather preachy, and the “thriller” part feels rather forced.  Someone like me, who agrees with most of Alcorn’s views might finish the book, but I think that the audience of social liberals that Alcorn hopes will read his books will be turned off by the rather aggressive campaign.

I do love a lot of his descriptive language, though –

In the newspaper business, ideas were perishables …  if not served up today, they’d be stored in the front of the refrigerator, then crowded toward the back, and finally – neglected until too old to recognize and too rancid to digest – unceremoniously tossed in the trash.

Alcorn hits abortion particularly hard.  I don’t usually get too “political” on this blog, but I am unabashedly pro-life, and will gladly have a conversation defending that point of view any time someone wants to take it on.  At one point, Finney’s widow, Sue, runs into a liberal senator (long story) and, before the Senator knows it, he’s embroiled in a conversation on abortion.  Fancying himself to be a real “women’s rights advocate,” he pompously reels off his usual litany, which Sue uses right back at him.

“For instance, I’ve heard you say you want abortion to be rare, that abortion is a heart-wrenching decision.  My question is, why?  What’s wrong with abortion?”

The senator looked surprised, as though he’d never  been asked that question.  “Well, it’s…it’s not a pleasant thing, and it’s a difficult decision for a woman to make.”

“What’s so unpleasant about it, Senator?  If it’s just a blob of tissue, like a cancer or something, a woman should be glad to get rid o f it.  Why is it such a difficult decision?  I mean, if your appendix or a kidney stone or something is making your life miserable, you just have it removed, get rid of it.  It’s not that difficult decision at all.  Why is abortion different?”

I think that abortion advocates are often people who haven’t really thought through the logic of their decisions, and, really, that’s the heart of Alcorn’s book – constantly making decisions based on our own desires does not lead to good ends.  There’s a particularly heart-tugging scene where Jake and Janet are talking with their daughter, Carly, who has decided not to abort her baby.  Carly doesn’t know that Jake and Janet got an abortion when they were in college  because they “weren’t ready,” and at one point Carly says, “No matter how much it messed up my college plans, my volleyball scholarship, and my life in general, I couldn’t go through with it.  I started thinking, what if I had come along at a time that was inconvenient for my parents?  Would I want them to kill me?  I just couldn’t punish an innocent child for my stupid mistake.”

Wow.  That scene just had such an impact, because, actually, if Carly had come at an inconvenient time, her parents would have killed her – they already killed her older brother or sister.  That’s a real turning point for Jake, where he begins to realize how his beliefs have impacted so much.

The book talks a lot about the impact abortion has on men and on the whole concept of parenthood.  Talking with a coworker (the only conservative in sight, and he’s in sports, where it doesn’t matter), Clarence is lamenting the lack of role models in his home neighborhood (Clarence is black and grew up in a poorer, crime-ridden part of town).  He says something I found vitally important:

“Men are told when they get a woman pregnant it isn’t their baby, it’s just hers.  They’re told they have no say in if they want the baby to live.  Spousal consent is an offensive concept to abortion rights people.  Men have no rights concerning the babies they’ve fathered.  But, Jake, we all know rights and responsibilities go hand in hand.  You can’t separate them.  So, when we tell men they have no rights, we’re really telling them they have no responsibilities.

“How can we say, ‘You have no right whatsoever to stand up for the welfare of this child,’ then expect them to take any responsibility whatsoever for the child if the mother decides to let him live?  You can’t have it both ways.  Either the father has rights and responsibilities for child, or he has neither rights nor responsibilities for the child.

“So what do we get as a result of believing this abortion propaganda?  A bunch of irresponsible men.  They’ve been taught they’re not needed in the home, women and children can get along fine without them – better because the government gives them a paycheck as long as they don’t marry the father.  So the men can go get a woman pregnant, then move on to the next woman and do the same thing, instead of settling down, getting a job, and supporting their family.  If they decide they want to take responsibility, which is what they should want, they’re told it’s none of their business, it’s the woman’s baby, not theirs.”

This was an intense and emotional book, and one that I sincerely wish had a bit more story to go with it.  I really think that Alcorn could have made a stronger impact by narrowing his focus and concentrating on keeping the story going.  I grew really attached to Jake and watched his personal (and unwilling) journey, but the whole thing with Doc’s death and how it came about felt very contrived and as though Alcorn just needed an out to finish up the story.

If you’ve stuck with me to the end of this ridiculously long review, thanks.  And I don’t usually get super personal on this blog, or super serious, but allow me to say that if you ever want to have a legitimate, honest, not-angry-or-accusatory conversation about abortion, just drop me a line.