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by Ed Stewart
Published by Victor Books, 1993
Suggested by: Ross Pavlac
I have had this book on my "to be read" list for years now, since Ross included it in his Recommended Reading List. From the title (and the title of the sequel), I expected it to be an "end times" story like Left Behind. In fact, while the story was set in the future at the time of publication, I would argue that it should be classified as a "thriller" rather than as science fiction.
The story opens on Christmas Eve, 1999 one week before New Year's Eve, and the dawn of the new millennium. (Yes, yes, I know that it was actually New Year's Eve 2000 which was the last night of the second millennium, and so does Stewart, but the vast majority of people don't get the point, and insist that the millennium began at the beginning of 2000, and he follows popular opinion for the sake of the story.) Los Angeles is set to host a huge gathering of Christians, convened by the four most popular TV evangelists in America, to celebrate Christian unity. However, somebody keeps calling the Los Angeles Times with apocalyptic messages which increasingly sound like death threats aimed at the evangelists.
Like many books where the potential casualties include large numbers of people, the story jumps around from character to character for a number of people who will end up at ground zero at the crucial moment: a sceptical reporter in town to cover the event for a book, one of the evangelists, a police officer assigned to protect her, the director of a ministry to the disadvantaged in the inner city, and of course the mad bomber. Each character is revealed to have various strengths and weaknesses, and, for the most part, the characters are not simply drawn in black and white. (Although the ministry director doesn't appear to have any vices, and the mad bomber doesn't appear to have any virtues.) The characterisation is not only believeable, but interesting, and the reader comes to care about the characters. In common with much CBA fiction, there is a romance subtheme (in this case, between the reporter and the cop), but it never gets so obtrusive that it ruins the story. There is also an element of mystery, and, if I guessed the identity of the mad bomber a couple of chapters before it's revealed, that's because Stewart, unlike a number of authors working in this genre, believes in the use of foreshadowing. All in all, a good read. I look forward to the sequel. (Especially since I don't see any loose threads left in the plot, and wonder how Stewart plans to pick up the story again.) Greg Slade (April, 2007)
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