Wednesday 7 September 2022

Novel Review: Prodigal Avenger: A Story of the Secret War in Afghanistan by Tim Monynihan

 I reviewed this novel on 17/02/19 in another blog, now defunct. 

A Covert Rescue Mission No One Expects to Succeed--Who will survive?
Special operator and "nice Jewish kid from Hawaii," Jake "Snake" Drecker, is intent on a mission across borders to eliminate a brutal terrorist cell. That they may or may not also be holding an American missionary hostage is unclear. The intelligence is sketchy, the objectives vague, and the chance of success slim. Jake's boss and old friend, Lieutenant Colonel Mike "Pancho" Sanchez, wonders at the mysterious motivation behind his best soldier's decisions--and about an equally mysterious rogue military unit that shows up at the worst moments to insert itself into their operations. That the CIA seems willing to sacrifice both Drecker's team and the hostage only adds to the mystery, forcing Pancho to dig deep to discover the truth behind the missionary's past. And time is running out as Drecker drags his team on a quixotic rescue operation into the very belly of the beast--a mission Drecker and Pancho both know they cannot survive unscathed.

Perspective by Peter:

When I first read No Greater Love: An Afghan Memoir, I was very impressed with this novella. This novella launched Moynihan as a newly published author. You would never know from reading this novel.

Now he has returned with his new novel, Prodigal Avenger. I am so glad to see this as a full-length novel. He has more than shown he can write a full-length novel. And it has not affected his writing style or any aspect of his ability to tell a story. To me, it appears he has come into his own with the length of this one.

Moynihan designed both novels as standalone. But, if you want to read them to enjoy the connection to the characters and the military world Moynihan has created, Prodigal Avenger needs to be read first followed by No Greater Love.

It was great to welcome back Lieutenant Colonel Mike "Pancho" Sanchez from No Greater Love. I had a soft spot for him from that novel, so was looking forward to seeing what lay in store for him in this new one. I was not disappointed. Moynihan has developed him further in this novel. Here we see more of the depth of his personality and character but also of his faith and relationship with Christ. But, we also see more of his military expertise that was not so evident in No Greater Love. And guess what? In both novels, I kept thinking that what I was seeing was Sanchez being modelled after the author and based on his military experiences! Not only that, but I kept seeing him as a Pastor figure! Sanchez hollers from Hawaii and the author has lived and planted a church in Honolulu. From a conversation with the author, he has confirmed that he has based Sanchez on parts of himself! Moynihan is also a Pastor. This is what makes this novel so real and relatable; real faith, believable characters, the military environment depicted as it is. And a touch of the supernatural! What better platform to depict all this than from the author's experience! Sometimes, writing based on what you know can be an author's greatest asset! In this novel and the previous one, it is that and more.

I loved the two brothers in No Greater Love, Danny and Zach Taylor, and Sanchez's relationship/mentoring of them. And Prodigal Avenger continues wiht this mentoring with a new character, Jake Drecker, who is an old friend of Sanchez'. Moynihan is on a winner with this character. He is a man's man, an action figure who has a depth of character like Sanchez, loyalty and is very patriotic. What you see is what you get. But where Sanchez stands apart from Jake is that he has faith and a relationship with the living Christ and Jake does not (well, not yet, anyway!). Both have integrity in all they do as a reflection of their character. Yet, Sanchez's has the added quality of being submitted to the Spirit and His transforming power of our heart, mind and soul.

I have already stated that Moynihan has based both novels on his faith, military experience and expertise. The same can be said for the spiritual elements of this novel. Moynihan has depicted Sanchez with how he had responded to the spiritual issues being a Christian in the military as he experienced them. His reactions to all aspects of the mission in front of them also showed his Pastor's heart is a strong basis for this. I find this impressive and it this that makes this novel shine with the others that I have already stated. Depicting Sanchez offering up heartfelt prayer supplication and requests for Divine guidance was encouraging and uplifting to my faith. I dislike the practice of Christian readers criticising authors for including actual prayers. Yet they applaud the author for depicting every other spiritual aspect as it is. Why not the prayer then? That is how it is and what Christians need to do. It also is a powerful witness to any unbeliever who may be reading the novel. I applaud Moynihan for not compromising on this and depicting as it is and being true to what the Spirit has guided him to do in his novels.

Moynihan depicts realistically the Christlike attitude and behaviour of Isidore Loewenthal and what it is like to suffer for Christ based on his faith and these characteristics. Yet, Loewenthal was persecuted in this novel for not being a Christian but being a Jew. It was this hatred for Jews that motivated his kidnapping and proposed execution. The plotline that showed him witnessing to Ali being a Muslim was heartfelt, impressive and Spirit led. From that discussion I mentioned having with the author, it is obvious that this is an example of the author's experience ministering to Muslims in his time in the military and mission trips to Pakistan and around the world since leaving the military. Again, it uplifted my spirit and faith but also challenged me!

This aforementioned plot line is an interesting and compelling one. I was taken by how Moynihan developed this. I was tense throughout the entire account of Ali being conflicted in his outward behaviour as a Muslim while trying to hide the joy and peace he experienced inwardly as a new Christian! The reasons why he had to do this evoked in me this tension. I understood his dilemma, if he was found out, he would be killed or even tortured beforehand. I was horrified when he then betrayed Loewenthal leading to his capture and torture! I wondered why he did this. Yet again, this is the dilemma Muslims who become Christian have to face against the Muslim world they now feel spiritually freed from but still physically bound to. But Moynihan showed the Christian response (based on Christ response to similar in the Bible) by Loewenthal responding with understanding compassion and love towards Ali! That is a sobering question to Christians and a real test of our faith and relationship with Christ. It was this very attitude and behaviour that was such a powerful witness to Jake when he was captured and tortured. And it was this that also helped Jake comes to terms with the relationship with his past and his father. It also encouraged him to consider the spiritual implications of this witness.

Speaking of this character, Moynihan has left it open for a sequel as the reader wonders at the end of the novel, what happens to Jake? Does he go on to other missions, what does he do with the spiritual input and witness from his wife, Sanchez, Loewenthal and the mystery and a coded message he receives while in hospital? Supernatural involvement? The question of this message and who sent it, I pray is explained in a future novel. Besides this, Moynihan had developed this character to be so relational that you are rooting for him throughout the novel. Like Sanchez, Loewenthal and Ali, you are with them as they experience all the highs, lows, challenges, successes and failures of life in a terrorist environment provokes.

I also want to know what happens to Ali? After betraying Loewenthal to the terrorists, Moynihan does not follow through with him. What happens to him after this? Does he fall back to his Muslim roots or does he repent of his betrayal, and embrace Christianity and live out his new found faith? The author is considering his fate for a future novel. It is a wait and see for this character and plot line. Again, to me it, leads another opening to a sequel.

The only other loose end, at least from my view, is that the two instances where the goat shepherds were present at crucial times of terrorist activity, these two separate missions were about to go pear-shaped and were prevented from doing so by these shepherds. Who are they? Clandestine Israeli military unit called Mista'arvim or supernatural messengers sent by God? This is one loose end I could leave as unexplained as it does not affect the plot or the final outcome of the novel as such and I am happy to accept either of these two scenarios. But my liking for the supernatural, makes me lean towards this being the explanation.

Moynihan has this to say about the supernatural/spiritual aspects of his novels,

But unlike, (our) good friend, Joe Courtemanche, I keep the spiritual stuff behind the veil and prefer to write psychological potboilers. Sort of like the way the Book of Esther is written in the Old Testament. God is barely mentioned but you can see His hand in all the events. What the Puritans called "Providence."

Reflecting on his novels, Moynihan has created them based on the faith of the Christian characters and their relationship with God. Their interaction being more of a "vertical" relationship from them to God. The Christian character lives out their faith in whatever situation they are in, employing Christian principles, attitudes and behaviour and asking for Divine intervention through prayer or it being manifested via the counsel of other Christians. Nothing wrong with this. He succeeds well in depicting it like this. 

One last aspect of this novel where Moynihan excels is the worldbuilding of the military environment. It is not over the top with military terminology or jargon, he has considered his readers in this with the provision of a Glossary of Terms. Unfortunately, I did not realise it was at the back of the novel or to even consider it to be there and I did struggle with a few of them. I was thankful for the dictionary function of the Kindle! From a comment on Facebook from a fellow retired military Christian author known to Moynihan and I, this reader confirms that this military depiction is very realistic and as it is. This forms a solid foundation that this novel is built upon. Moynihan is committed to telling it as it is on all levels and aspects so this is an asset to his writing and storytelling. One any reader will be able to trust.

I look forward even more to further works of Moynihan's worldbuilding since the release of Prodigal Avenger. He has indicated some of this to whet our appetites,

The sequel to both novels is called Double Tap Angel and will take place after both of them.

I have considered a non-linear series (sort of like Star Wars) based around the real time history of the War on Terror which I perceive to be a spiritual war in the heavenly realm.

I pray he delivers all this, from our conversation, he has a wealth of material from his military experience and Christian missions to the Muslim countries where he has ministered the Gospel.

I really appreciate reading novels like this where the author is under the guidance of the Spirit and does not compromise any spiritual standard that would work to water down the Gospel or give readers what they want and not what the Spirit wants.

In this age that is fast moving to Jesus' second coming and the end of this age, it is vital that we have Christian authors who write uncompromised like this.

I am very impressed with this novel. I pray that we do not have long to wait for the continuation of this series or the real-time history of the War on Terror that he has planned.

Highly Recommended.

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