A Christian version of suspense queen Mary Higgins Clark? Terri Blackstock's skill at writing suspense fiction reminded me much of the mystery queen. "Evidence of Mercy" (available as a separate novel, or as one of four best-selling Blackstock novels in the "Suncoast Chronicles" anthology) is a humdinger of a suspense story, revolving around the lives of three main characters. The main protagonist, Lynda, is a Christian lawyer whose life is threatened by an unknown killer. The second central character is the atheist Jake, who becomes a paraplegic after crashing on Lynda's sabotaged plane while test-flying it as a prospective buyer. The third main character is one of Lynda's clients, Paige, a single parent trying to avoid her abusive ex-husband. Suspense mounts as the mystery killer and his motive remain unidentified in the first half of the story.
The first story in this collection, "Evidence of Mercy", is a terrific and captivating story that draws you in, and at the same time gives you much to think about, because the characters not only battle a mysterious killer, but also their own personalities and weaknesses. Much Christian fiction falls into the trap of featuring an artificial conversion story. Terri Blackstock shows that writers can craft a mouth-watering Christian story without artificially sprinkling it with an obvious theological twist of this kind, and yet retain a deeper spiritual significance. In the afterword, Blackstock explains that the idea of her book came after a personal struggle with her faith, and the growing awareness that faith needs to be put into action. "I thought I believed, I said I believed - but I did nothing to put the belief into action. I was neither hot nor cold, but luke-warm, and absolutely fruitless." The title "Evidence of Mercy" describes this important spiritual theme that Blackstock wants to convey. The struggles of the three characters mirror Blackstock's own struggles, as she explains: "the characters interested me because their own spiritual battles were so much like my own: Lynda, a lukewarm Christian who would let someone die without witnessing to him; Jake, an agnostic who couldn't give up the pilot's seat in his life until it was taken from him; and Paige, a spiritual infant on the verge of belief, who lacked the faith to make the final plunge." For instance, Lynda comes to conclude "she'd made a god of an airplane, an altar of her job, and an idol of her ego" (p.38), and Jake realizes the folly of relying on his good looks: "If I'd known I was going to be left with just my character, I'd have worked harder at building some." (p.135) Without taking on an preaching tone that many Christian writers unwittingly do, Blackstock brings out these important spiritual truths by showing them in the lives of her characters in a convincing and persuasive manner. The other three stories in this anthology are equally good. In fact, I find them to be on a higher level than Dee Henderson's popular books.
Terri Blackstock's novels are a welcome addition to the ranks of Christian fiction. The genre has been dominated especially by the historical romance, much of it inferior to secular fictions on most levels. With her successful efforts in suspense fiction genre, Terri Blackstock shows that it doesn't have to be that way (aside from an unnecessary kiss in the last pages), and that Christian writers can successfully take on new genres, and do so with style. As a fan of suspense fiction, I'm grateful to see Christian writers provide exciting alternatives to secular novels in the genre. Move over Mary Higgins Clark!