Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 05/23/2010 by Mark Tubbs.
Not Recommended. A page-turner, granted, but unless you are a Christian Romance buff, you probably don't need to read this one.
Had not J. Mark Bertrand co-written Beguiled with popular Christian fiction author Deeanne Gist, I would not have touched such a book with a ten-foot barge pole, as the saying goes. But because his Crossway Books non-fiction release Rethinking Worldview was so rich, and because the advance copy of his upcoming Bethany House crime novel Back on Murder was a highlight of my mother’s recent cruise vacation, I was willing to give Beguiled the benefit of the doubt. It wasn't unpleasant. Uncomfortable at times, yes, due to the romance factor, but not altogether unpleasant.
Since I'm a male, it's only right that I start with the crime narrative, supplied mainly by Bertrand. Set in the historic section of Charleston, the criminal activity in the book begins with random burglaries in which only one memento, never the most expensive possession in the house, is stolen. The action later escalates to the point where the crazed intruder maliciously vandalizes every single possession, breaking DVDs, shredding clothes, and ransacking refrigerator contents. I can't deny the book was a page-turner; I took just two days to read the 332 pages. My only disappointment was how typically psychopathic the main perpetrator/antagonist turned out to be, regularly employing steretypical lines such as “You're mine!”
Onto the romance narrative. Books like these are filled with expressions like "she cringed inwardly." Well, I cringed outwardly at many points, courtesy of expressions such as
- "His muscles had mouth-watering definition."
- "A dark-wash denim mini-skirt sheathed her thighs."
- "She turned in the seat, the checked shirt twisting tight across her chest."
You get the picture. In fact, you probably get more than the picture. Although I won't be picking up another Christian Romance book anytime soon, their obvious ubiquity and widespread appeal are undeniable. If you are a consumer of this type of writing, I would simply caution that even these tiny snippets of veiled eroticisim can be unhealthy. We are prone to wander, as the hymnist said, in both heart and head, and it doesn't take much to fan a smoldering ember into a flame.
This probably isn't a fair thing to include in a review of Gist and Bertrand’s book since they did take a fair while to write and revise it, but it bears mentioning: seeing as I only took two days to read the book, is it any wonder that Christian publishers churn out Christian Romance by the boatload? Even assuming only a pace of two books consumed per week, that's still over one hundred books a year.
I must say two more complimentary things:
- It takes a courageous, masculine man to co-write this type of book. Good thing he is following up with a dark, brawny mystery in July.
- While I cannot tell whether one co-writer, or both, is responsible for the ever-so-subtle social commentary on wealth and class beneath the main storylines, it is nevertheless present and deftly handled. Without condemning riches for riches' sake, the wealthy characters are portrayed as authentic, fallible people - not sinful because they are wealthy, but as real as anyone else.
Now a note on the all-important "recommended" or "not recommended" designation: I hemmed and hawed over whether it would be unjust to "not recommend" this book, and decided in favor of the negative recommendation. I say this simply because the majority of readers probably won't benefit from it, even if only to while away the time of day. To avoid ending the review on a downcast note, let me spin for positivity: the guy gets the girl and the bad guy gets caught. Everybody wins!