This review is part of the June Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour, and we are reviewing Tom’s first book even though his second book, VALLEY OF THE SHADOW, has just come out.
The first thing I did when I heard about this tour was to go over to Tom’s website and read the first chapter of Vanish—and I was hooked. Tom obviously knows how to write, and to write a book filled with suspense mystery and the supernatural.
Here’s a quick critique of what I’ve seen:
The Opening Lines Of VANISH
It all began with a feeling. Just an eerie feeling.
Conner Hayden peered out his office window at the hazy downtown Chicago vista. Heat plumes radiated from tar-covered rooftops baking in the midafternoon sun. A late-summer heat wave had every AC unit in the city running at full capacity.
He narrowed his eyes. Every unit except the one on the building across the street. On that roof, a lone maintenance worker in blue coveralls crouched beside the bulky air conditioner with his toolbox open beside him.
Conner watched the man toil in the oppressive August heat. Something hadn’t felt right all day. Despite the relative seclusion of his thirty-ninth-floor office, Conner couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched.
This is pretty good. It’s not perfect. It gets me interested right away, and give me the man’s name, where he lives, where he works, and builds tension.
But there’s still not much action. We don’t see Conner do much. But does he have to? I still want to read more, so I’m caught.
The Dialogue In VANISH
The first time people talk to each other, Tom shows he knows what he’s doing:
By the time he got to the office, he had been in full paranoia. His neck and shoulders were tense. He stopped at his secretary’s desk. “Nancy, do you notice anything strange about me today? People have been staring at me all morning.”
Nancy just curled an eyebrow. “You mean other than the horns sticking out of your head?”
Nancy loved her lawyer jokes.
This got me. I immediately trust that Tom can write witty, realistic dialogue that will carry me through the rest of the book.
VANISH’s Writing Style
Tom used a certain three little characters here and there in the first chapter—and this surprised me. What were they? The “ellipse”, or three periods. And not just in dialogue, but in the narrative.
This surprised me because I started out writing this way, and was told by a published author that they were surprised I did that. I assumed from his surprise that you couldn’t do it, so I took them out of my text.
But there they are, in a published novel. And you know what? They work. Why? Because I’m inside Conner’s head, and so if his thinking pauses, the text should pause, and there is no better punctuation to communicate this to the reader. Here’s a sample:
The maintenance guy was still there, crouched down, working on the AC unit.
Conner rubbed the tension out of his neck and watched for a few minutes. His gaze drifted down to the street, and when he looked up again, the repairman was standing. Toolbox in hand. Facing him.
Conner blinked. Facing him?
He jerked back in his chair. The guy was watching him!
He squinted and leaned closer. He had a hard time focusing but . . .
This guy . . . had no face!
Perfect! A guy who is “staring” at Conner that has no face! He uses the ellipse sparingly, but for excellent effect. I just might put a few back into my novel…
To discern this, I read the reviews on Amazon, and from them it’s pretty clear that both VANISH and VALLEY OF THE SHADOW are pretty intense in their depictions of the spiritual realm. Enough to scare Jesus into someone, I follow!
One of the greatest compliments people paid to Tom was that the book was ORIGINAL. Yes, not some cliche’d reworking. So that gives it a big thumb’s up from me.
An interesting note is that EVERY single review was either four or five stars—except one three star review by a non-Christian man that “[Doesn’t] care … to read [a] Christianity themed or inspired work”. The man hadn’t even read the book.
He was just complaining that the book was being put forward by Amazon “secretly” with its Christian message. But Amazon’s review made it clear that the book was an “Inspirational Suspense”. Ah well, you can’t please everyone.
If you’re looking for an excellent supernatural thriller, these books are for you! Obviously this is written more for adults, but I would guess that mature teens would enjoy this as well. Again, I haven’t read the entire book, so parental discretion is advised.
Here’s a list of the other tour members: