Absence of Faith
by Anthony S. Policastro
Copyright: © 2009
If Tim LeHaye and Michael Crichton had ever gotten together to write a book, it would probably end up being something like Anthony Policastro’s Absence of Faith. It’s part medical mystery and part religious thriller all rolled up in a plot of Christianity, Unexplained Phenomenon, New Age Beliefs, and Satanic Occults. It’s a white-knuckle read that would probably drive a Baptist preacher to an early death, and probably have Stephen King saying, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”
Dr. Carson Hyll and his wife are just settling down to a new life in Ocean Village. But Dr. Hyll falls asleep, a mysterious black out, at the wheel and drives his car off a bridge and into the river. His near death experience is so horrible that he believes he has actually gone to hell and back and lived to tell about it. But his bare skin ends up telling the story instead. It suddenly becomes covered in first degree burns. But the doctor isn’t alone. Other residents of Ocean Village start have the same experiences, blisters and all.
Officials are baffled by what’s happening to the townspeople of Ocean Village. Is it an unexplained outbreak? Is it a sign from God? Panic breaks out as those suffering from the mysterious burns start to believe that it’s a sign of Satan and that God has abandoned them. Satanists decide to take advantage of the situation and prey on the fears of the suffering, moving into Ocean Village and spreading their word. Their leader, Kyle Mabus, takes center stage and insists he is the Anti-Christ. The vivid and chilling descriptions of Kyle’s blood-lust habits will make your stomach churn! I myself was raised in the pews of a Baptist Church. The preacher had to give us permission to clap after someone sang a solo because we sat there in silence most of the time.
Once, I was scared practically to death just attending a school friend’s Non-Denominational church and hearing people speak in tongues while running up and down the aisles. And while I don’t practice a certain religion or attend a church today, I do marvel at the beliefs that can shape our lives and culture. Whether it be Jesus on a potato chip or visions of Mother Mary on a hilltop in Kentucky, our faith is personal and yet complex, and certainly intriguing to a writer and reader like me which is why I think I enjoyed this book so much.
And Policastro has done a superb job of presenting the theories that baffle both scientists and christians. Absence of Faith is the deep struggle between good and evil, science and religion, believers and non. It asks what happens when our faith is tested, or even lost, and what happens to humankind with and without it.
Being coined a “thriller,” Policastro moves his book along at a magnificent pace that makes for a nice page-turner. There are numerous underdeveloped characters, but the central ones more key to the plot are given the right amount of focus. The book does suffer from being a bit “preachy” at times though; Policastro is determined to have the reader literally find the message (or be brow beaten by it) in scripture and sermon, but overall it didn’t distract too much from the main point of the book. If it had, I would have certainly stopped reading after about 50 pages. And if anything, there is a message there at how sometimes one’s beliefs can be forced upon us when we don’t always agree.
Those strong in their faith may want to avoid this one unless you do have an open mind and can appreciate a good read that will explore and challenge the complicated outer limits of religion. Part Crichton’s Outbreak, part LeHaye’s Left Behind, and even some of King’s smalltown Salem’s Lot thrown in, be prepared to stay up late at night reading this one, and being haunted by it long after the last page.
by Keith Dixon
Copyright: © 2008
I was excited to get my copy of Altered Life and write my essay on a detective thriller from Keith Dixon. He was nice enough to send me a copy all the way across the pond and I dove into it the same day it arrived. The description hooked me: ‘Altered Life transplants the attitude and pace of the American private eye story into a contemporary English setting.’
This book features Sam Dyke, a hard edged private eye with a past. His niche tends more towards stakeouts and connecting the dots than the intricacies of corporate espionage.
However, the murder of Rory Brand, consultant and computer tycoon, sends him lurching off on a case he didn’t want trying to find one killer out of a dozen likely suspects.
Each chapter seems to start with a paragraph or two which give you a glimpse at the English locations where Altered Life is set. Here is an example from Chapter 46: “The next morning I drove down to north Birmingham, to one of the suburbs that were built as wealthy Victorian merchants began to distance themselves from the dark heart of their steel foundries and sought the green pastures of what was then open country. The wide roads and spacious architecture of mansion and church had since been overrun by the mini-community of Chinese takeaway, Laundromat and video store but if you half-shut your eyes you could still see the outlines of the Palladian refuges that the bearded philanthropists had created for themselves and the families.”
There are strong female characters sprinkled throughout Altered Life as well. Laura Marshall is the up and coming executive at Brand’s firm that hires Sam to solve Brand’s murder. Tara Brand is Rory’s current wife who shares a connection to Sam Dyke as well. Of course, there is a police detective with a bad attitude about Private Eyes who end up in the middle of his case.
The action comes fast and furious as Sam starts stepping on toes and asking uncomfortable questions. The important aspects of detective stories are here, the ubiquitous car chase that ends up with Sam in the ditch and Laura in the hospital… the excusable breaking an entering to dig up valuable clues, and the switcheroo at the end which you don’t quite see coming even though you should. The writing is sound, the story flows well, and the frequent dialogue between characters is expertly handled. Perhaps surprising for a book like this is the time spent fleshing out the characters and examining what makes them tick. Even Sam seems more like you and I trying to solve this case than a super-detective.
If you like private eye stories, you owe it to yourself to check out Keith Dixon’s Altered Life. I had a hard time putting it down and I bet you will too. With this book you’ll be in on the ground floor of what is sure to be a successful series of ‘Sam Dyke’ mysteries.