Thursday, 12 December 2013

Book Review: Unspoken by Dee Henderson

By Iola Goulton

I’ve read almost all of Dee Henderson’s books. I loved her Uncommon Heroes series, and I loved the early books in the O’Malley series (I also loved the last one, but the three in the middle? Not so much). She also wrote two very good stand-alone novels, then didn’t publish anything for several years.

So when Full Disclosure came out last year, I was keen to read it—until I saw the reviews. I did eventually buy and read Full Disclosure, and found I agreed with all the critical reviews: I couldn’t relate to the heroine, felt the hero deserved better, and was particularly annoyed by the heroine’s profitable hobby (those of you who have read Full Disclosure will know what I mean, and I’m not going to spoil it for the rest of you). Suffice to say, I finished reading Full Disclosure, wrote my review, and donated my copy to the church library where I can forget it ever existed.

So you will understand why I was apprehensive about Henderson’s new book, Unspoken. The blurb didn’t make it clear if this was related to Full Disclosure or not (and I see being related to Full Disclosure as a bad thing). I was also a little apprehensive based on the blurb:

Charlotte Graham is at the center of the most famous kidnapping in Chicago history.

The task force of FBI and local cops found her two abductors, killed them, rescued her, but it took four very long years. The fact she was found less than three miles from her home, had been there the entire time, haunts them. She's changed her identity, found a profession she loves, and rebuilt her life.

She's never said a word--to the cops, to her doctors, to family--about those four years.

A family legacy has brought her back to Chicago where a reporter is writing a book about the kidnapping. The cops who worked the case are cooperating with him. Her options are limited: Hope the reporter doesn't find the full truth, or break her silence about what happened. And her silence is what has protected her family for years.

Bryce Bishop doesn't know her past, he only knows she has coins to sell from her grandfather's estate--and that the FBI director for the Chicago office made the introduction. The more he gets to know Charlotte, the more interested he becomes, an interest encouraged by those closest to her. But nothing else is working in his favor--she's decided she is single for life, she struggles with her faith, and she's willing to forego a huge inheritance to keep her privacy. She's not giving him much of an opening to work with.

Charlotte wants to trust him. She needs to tell him what happened. Because a crime cops thought was solved, has only opened another chapter...

First, it seems to me that Henderson has already done the kidnapped twin plot in Danger in the Shadows (the O’Malley prequel). Second, the blurb was released at the same time as the revolting Castro kidnapping came to light, and it seemed pretty obvious what would have happened to the fictional Charlotte Graham, and that wasn’t something I want to read about. It seems almost voyeuristic. Abhorrent as this is, it also seemed that if this wasn’t what happened in Unspoken, it wouldn’t be true to life.

There is a lesson here about relating to readers. We have expectations about what a particular author is going to write, and we like it best if those expectations are met. Don’t set it in the same city (Chicago) as your previous books, with characters with the same occupations (FBI agent) as your previous characters. Please. If the novel is different, make it really different (like Brandilyn Collins did with That Dog Won't Hunt, which clearly isn’t her trademark ‘Seatbelt Suspense’ novel).

It’s also a lesson about keeping it real. We live in a fallen world, and while I read fiction (especially romance) as entertainment, I want (need?) fiction to take place in a world I recognise. Especially when it’s contemporary fiction (I give historical fiction more leeway), and especially when it’s dealing with crime. A world in which bad things don’t happen isn’t real. I need fiction to feel real, but to still have the hope of Jesus shining through. After all, that’s why I read Christian fiction.

Rant over. You wanted a book review. What did I actually think of Unspoken, and would I recommend it?

Yes.

I’ll explain.

Unspoken wasn’t perfect. It is a sequel to Full Disclosure, and Paul Falcon and Ann Silver do feature, but Ann has mellowed in marriage and is a lot more of a relatable character. I found it odd that we had a romantic suspense novel that didn’t have a single scene from the heroine’s viewpoint. The book was written almost entirely from the male point of view: Bryce Bishop, Paul Falcon and John Key (Charlotte’s bodyguard, not the Prime Minister of New Zealand). It’s possible the book was too long and that there was too much information about antique coins (Bryce is a coin dealer; Charlotte has a collection to sell).

Henderson is still obsessed with writing about uber-rich characters. She might be making the point that no amount of money will fill the God-shaped hole inside us, but the pattern is starting to come across as unrealistic fantasy, in much the same was as Karen Kingsbury’s most recent novels. And I’m not entirely convinced by Charlotte’s about-face at the end. It felt a little as though Henderson had written herself into a corner and didn’t actually have an answer to her central question.

So what did I like about Unspoken?

I liked Charlotte’s central conflict, which takes the “why does God allow bad things to happen” question one step further. Charlotte’s view is that God is too willing to forgive—she doesn’t want anything to do with a God who would give a second chance to the men who hurt her. It’s an intriguing premise. I’m not convinced it was answered satisfactorily, but it’s an excellent question.

I liked the fact that Unspoken didn’t go into any detail about what actually happened during those four missing years, but instead trusted the reader to fill in the blanks.

I liked the writing. There was a poignancy, an almost-unbearable sadness about some of it, and even though we were never inside Charlotte’s head, I could understand her in a way I never understood Full Disclosure’s Ann Silver. Her background meant it made sense that she was insular, reluctant to trust others and had no intention of ever marrying. What would be character faults in anyone else were an understandable by-product of Charlotte's personal history.

And I loved Bryce Bishop. I have no idea why this man is still single at forty (except that this is a novel). He’s patient, loving and unselfish—everything a romantic hero should be (his only fault is that he is too perfect). So while I still don’t like Full Disclosure, I very much enjoyed Unspoken and would recommend it.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog.

17 comments:

  1. Love your honest reviews, Iola.

    I was intrigued by Full Disclosure, the first Dee Henderson novel I've ever read, and I enjoyed it. Mainly because I was impressed by the author's comprehensive knowledge of what goes on in police investigations etc. and the closed, seemingly damaged Ann Silver.

    Therefore, I will be looking out for Unspoken to compare. Thanks for the heads up about the POV - that intrigues me as well. Unfortunate timing for the book's release, wasn't it?

    Thanks again, Iola :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you liked Full Disclosure, I'm sure you'll like Unspoken. But don't be in a hurry to read the O'Malley series.

      Delete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just wanted to explain - this comment was deleted because my first one came up twice for some reason. Ah, technology!

      Delete
  3. Very in depth as usual Iola. I enjoy Dee's books so it is interesting to read the finer points here and take a more critical look.
    Seems technical difficulties abound Andrea - I think there is an unfinished line, perhaps one of Iola's links has failed. Ahhh, technology, its a love hate relationship.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I noticed that unfinished line too, Cat - "What would be character faults in anyone else were "

      Delete
    2. Oops. Fixed now. I meant to say that Charlotte's character faults were understandable given her background.

      Delete
    3. Ha ha I'm only teasing Iola. Blame the technology monster!

      Delete
  4. Thanks for that Iola. I haven't read any Dee Henderson books but I'm tempted.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for the total review Iola, I can always count on your for those. I was a fan of Dee's O'Malley series many years ago, but haven't finished her other books yet (the Uncommon Heroes series and her standalone books), let alone read FULL DISCLOSURE and come to a decision on it. I too have read many critical reviews of it so I will eventually read it out of interest. Wonderful to hear that UNSPOKEN has more depth to it and an interesting lineup of POVs.

    I found it interesting you mentioned Karen Kingsbury as having a similar issue as Dee - the formulaic approach doesn't work. Readers want familiarity, but never similarity. There is a huge difference. In the demand for readers wanting more stories about the Baxter family, Karen seemed to run out of fresh material to bring to them, and in the end let her readers down. The release schedule for the books was also rather heavy, and I wonder if this too impacted on the quality of the end product. Not to mention that the best books of the entire saga were the first ones, the Redemption series - which she wrote with Gary Chapman's input.

    Anyway, back to Dee - I'm sure in time she will be back in fine form once more - especially if she takes into account the reader reactions to FULL DISCLOSURE and works what was lacking from it into her future stories - being relatable to the characters. After all, this is what made her Uncommon Heroes series so popular, along with the romantic suspense element - strong, relatable characters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I meant her O'Malley series, not the Uncommon Heroes series - although it's probably true for both LOL

      Delete
    2. Yes, Kingsbury did let her readers down with the end of the Baxter series - I see she's still getting glowing reviews, but they seem to be from people who are just discovering her books, so it's great that she's finding a new audience (and I think that was one of her problems - the books shifted from women's fiction with a romantic element to New Adult. Most artists grow with their audience, not get younger).

      Do read Dee's Uncommon Heroes series. I like them even more than the O'Malley books.

      Delete
  6. Hi Iola, thanks for a great review. I haven't read any of Dee Hendersen's (or Karen Kingsley's) novels and will have to add them to my ever growing to-read list.

    I too like my fiction to be "real" even though my favourite genre is fantasy. For me, it needs to have believable characters and events (given the premises of the fictional world) with natural consequences. I like historical fiction to be true to what people would say and do in that era though of course this is actually hard to pull off. Most historical fiction smuggles in modern attitudes and values and it is perhaps hard to do otherwise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the other beauty of historical fiction or fantasy is that you can explore current issues in a way that isn't so blatant, because of the difference in setting. For example, Courting Trouble by Deeanne Gist was an edgy historical that examined Christians having sex outside of marriage. I found it interesting the way the lead character attempted to justify that to herself, and wondered what spurious justification contemporary teens use ... Fantasy can lend itself to similar questions.

      Delete
    2. Definitely. Sci-Fi also - I'm thinking of a movie like Gattica that extrapolates more or less current technology and trends to delve into very relevant moral issues of designer babies. Watching a movie or reading a book like that is far more accessible to most people than a thick ethics tome.

      Delete
  7. Iola, thanks for your detailed and insightful review. I loved Danger in the Shadows and the O'Malley books, and I read them years ago when they were new releases. By memory, Danger in the Shadows was a romantic suspense (my favourite of the series) and The O'Malley books were more suspense with romantic elements. Unspoken sounds more like The O'Malley books and an interesting read.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I too loved all her books until the last couple before Full Disclosure. That is such a large book that afraid it has had to stay at the bottom of this undisciplined reader's large pile of To Be Read books. I have been too busy to get so caught up in not being able to put down such a long book I know would not leave me time to cope with these last few hectic months. It is good to read your thoughts about both books, Iola. Thank you so much for such in depth reviews. I'll have to put this latest book on my Christmas gift list!

    ReplyDelete