By Iola GoultonI’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?
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.