I reviewed this novel on 24/11/19 in a previous blog, now defunct.
John Cross is a small-town pastor, bent on leading his flock to follow God's calling. He's not the sort of man one would expect to have a checkered past.
But the truth is that the man behind the pulpit preaching to his sheep was once a wolf--an assassin for the CIA. When John decided to follow Christ, he put that work behind him, determined to pay penance for all the lives he took. He vowed never to kill again.
Now someone wants the peaceful pastor to pay for his sins with his own life. And when a terrorist out for revenge walks into the church, John's secrets are laid bare. Confronted with his past, he must face his demons and discover whether a man can truly change. Can he keep his vow--even when the people he loves are in mortal danger? Will his congregation and the brave woman he's learning to care for be caught in the crossfire? In the end, his death may be the only sacrifice he has left to offer . . .
Andrew Huff's thrilling debut is not only a riveting story of suspense, but it's also a deep exploration of the moral quandaries that face those who choose to follow the Prince of Peace in a violent world.
Perspective by Peter:
I saw this novel advertised in my Twitter feed and was drawn to the description. I joined the book tour to obtain a review copy but had issues with the website in downloading it, so bought my own copy. I am so glad I did. This novel lives up to its description and more!
I have read similar novels where the special ops operative is a Christian. However, this novel takes this to the next level. It is similar to another series I am reading, A Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery (K.P Gresham) where a police officer is in witness protection while the court case against the underworld criminal who killed his police officer father is being held. He becomes a pastor in a rural town, changes his name change and becomes involved in the murders in this town and those after him finally track him to this town. Each author has a different focus, both very appealing, very impressive, two different outlooks and feel. Both well worth the read.
From reading some of the reviews of Huff's novel, everyone seems to agree, this is one wild, roller-coaster ride of a read! It is totally engaging, gripping, suspenseful, thrilling, fast-paced, exciting and cannot be put down. It is also well-written. For a debut novel, it is not obvious that it is so. Huff has a confident and competent command of the English language that forms a solid foundation for this novel to move the reader forward and become thoroughly invested. And this does not let up until the very end.
Huff definitely knows how to write fight scenes and car chases. Believe me, this novel is plentiful in both! They are detailed and involved. They played in my mind like a movie. While some other author's descriptions of these two events can be imagined as far-fetched, I did not get this impression from this novel. For me, that is a huge plus! I started to imagine the bruises and the aches and pain, the cuts, abrasions and lacerations that John and to a lesser degree, Christine, sustained during these scenes.
Huff also knows how to create characters that are relational and well developed. When I look at what John and Christine went through in this novel, Huff could not afford to have these two as two-dimensional. It would have made this novel fall flat on its face and lose all credibility. But he has not created them to be this. I was instantly endeared to John but it took a while for me to be the same with Christine. I interpreted her as cashing in on her experience, traumatic as it was, at the expense of John. But when the attempts on their lives occurred, I saw her in a different light. Huff then introduced the element of romance between the two and I was endeared towards her. How I am looking forward to seeing this developed further in the rest of the series.
There is a sincerity, genuineness and honesty about John, a man of integrity. He is totally committed to God and living out the Word of God in his life. Quite a feat to stand up to the CIA and say he will do covert ops but not kill anymore! And these qualities become the springboard for the spiritual aspects of this novel. As John lives out the Word in his life, this is biblical as we are instructed to be doers of the Word and not hearers only as stated in James 1:22,
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
But this is further expounded where John meets the antagonist in a death-to-the-end fight. John is torn between following his natural instinct to kill in self-defence against obeying God's command to not kill. John obeying the command of God and the antagonist so full of hate and revenge that it is one very tense moment. John realises he could die at the hand of this terrorist but stands firm in the truth of God's Word and in the person of Jesus Christ and who He is. Then comes one of the most powerful scenes of redemption and forgiveness I have ever read in fiction. It brought me to tears, not from John's point of view, but for the terrorist and what he went through, or rather, what the Spirit revealed to him at that moment. This is Christian fiction at its best and Huff does it well.
Once I recovered myself from this scene, I was struck with the thought that what if this happens in real life? What if there are covert special ops agents who are Christian and who are placed in this situation or similar? I believe there would be situations like this. We have already similar in those Christians tortured by the Romans in the Coliseum and over the centuries since, who are tortured for their faith and then killed. Why should situations in covert special ops be any different? I even thought to myself that how would it be if I was placed in a situation at my level in everyday life if I was confronted with a man or woman wielding a weapon and was intent on killing me because they hated the God whom I served and whom I loved? I pray I would have the John Cross approach and let the Spirit have His way no matter what outcome for me.
Even the situations where Christine was showed the love of Christ through the witness of a few others, and in particular from John, were powerful to show how God works and the power of our Christian witness. Who would have thought that a lady like Lori (and we all have them in our congregations!) could be the one used by God to plant the seed of faith in Christine? One unlikely character on the surface but who showed insight into the Gospel and the God she loves to plainly and simply express it to Christine. Lori plants, John waters and God brings in the harvest! And yet, Huff portrays the opposite with John and Eric Paulson. John plants the seed and the watering will be, I presume, in the next novel. I cannot see how Huff could exclude Eric from the rest of this series. Huff shows how it is to be for us as in the Gospel, we are used by God to plant a seed of faith here or to water another there. God brings in the Harvest. Eric's salvation or restoration to God lies in the rest of the series.
This is one of a few novels of this genre, where the spiritual/biblical aspects are interwoven seamlessly into the fabric of the plot arcs despite them otherwise being in opposition to each other. I have read others where the former aspects are not depicted to the depth they are here and loosely applied or the protagonist is Christian but there is not much or at all of the expression of their faith or any of the Gospel presented. Such a shame. I have read others where the same sticks out like a sore thumb, derails the plot and just does not fit in. Hence the criticism from Christians and non-Christians alike. However, Huff has stepped away from this practice and has set his calibre and standard in this debut novel. This is so refreshing. An author friend of mine has stated that if you write for God, God and all He stands for will be expressed in the novel (or words to that effect!). Based on that, Huff has achieved this.
In the Why Christian Fiction tab of this blog I state that I like to see the following in Christian Fiction:
- it has entertained me immensely,
- it has encouraged my walk with God,
- it has not deviated from known biblical doctrine, and it will not, I believe, lead a non-believer astray or promote false doctrine,
- it honours God,
- it does not encourage worship of the created (eg angels) instead of the Creator (God).
Huff has succeeded in the first four and these are applicable to this novel. I can honestly say that Huff has found his niche in Christian Fiction. This is one author to follow and support in buying his novels and reviewing them. He definitely has my support and I am more than willing to review his novels in the future.
I have no regrets about getting involved in this book tour. This novel has been a great blessing and I am so looking forward to the rest of this series. I am glad the next one is not too far away.
This is one impressive debut novel. Huff has some encouraging and positive reviews on Amazon that showcase the praises of his creation. The jury is in!Highly Recommended.
The three ratings below are based on my discernment:
World Building 5/5
The two classifications below are based on the booklet, A Spiritual System for Rating Books by David Bergsland:
Spiritual Level 4/5
Enemy Spiritual Level 3/5
The Reality Calling Redemptive Fiction Award
If you would like to investigate further A Cross To Kill, click on the image below: