The Pitch: Peter Ryan wakes up and discovers his wife and daughter are missing. When he reaches out to friends for help in finding them, he hears the startling news: they’ve been dead for 2 months, victims of a car crash. Yet something inside Peter’s head won’t let him rest–he just knows that they’re alive. Peter’s home is then invaded by masked gunmen, and somehow Peter is able to dispatch his attackers with deadly accuracy. Wait–Peter’s just a mild-mannered laboratory researcher who’s never even fired a weapon before. How is this possible? What happens next proves that nothing is what it seems, even in your own mind.
The Review: It’s been a while since I’ve really delved into Christian fiction, but in my experience, it’s a rare thing to find a work of Christian fiction that’s actually worth reading. Well, my friends, I present to you Centralia, a thriller by Mike Dellosso that is not just worth reading–it’s actually really good. And it’s not just the plot that’s good–it’s very well-written. The dialogue felt natural and the characterization was solid. There were no points where the descriptions or dialogue made me roll my eyes. It was consistently strong all the way through.
If you are a fan of action movies of the spy/conspiracy variety, the plot description above has already got your mind guessing what the big reveals are going to be. As I started reading the book, I had a host of expectations on how it was going to go down. The author consistently defied my expectations. He understands the genre he’s writing, and so he sometimes incorporates certain genre tropes–only to subvert others. There are a dizzying number of fake-outs and hair-pin turns in the storyline, and it really did keep me on my toes as a reader. In fact, there were at least a half-dozen busted theories in my head about how things were going to turn out, by the time I read the last page. (Truth be told, I’m kinda sad that one of my theories in particular didn’t pan out; but I have no complaints about how the author closed it out. He was able to “stick the landing,” which was a feat in itself.)
I really don’t want to tell you more than that, because I’d hate to spoil anything (else).
As far as content issues/concerns: This is a military/spy thriller of a sort, so there is a pretty high body count. And while Dellosso is a bit graphic in describing some of the action, he’s not gratuitous or gruesome. But if you’re squeamish about such things, take that into consideration. As far as inappropriate language–there was none that I could remember, not even taking the Lord’s name in vain. (I could be wrong, but no instances come to mind.) I appreciated that.
The Faith Question: A huge challenge in Christian fiction is how to deal with faith. Most of the time, this is addressed through preachy monologues, trite sentimentality, or just plain goofy theology being espoused. This type of writing is cringe-worthy at best, which is one of the reasons why I’ve stayed away from Christian fiction for so long.
What I appreciated about this book is that, while faith in Jesus wasn’t at the forefront, it was an consistent undercurrent. There is no clear Gospel message presented (though you could arguably see some Gospel impact in characters’ lives), which I can’t help but be a little disappointed about. Then again, I don’t know how it could have been done without feeling completely forced. On the other hand, it is very clear that the type of faith the author is describing here is not faith in an amorphous “God” but faith that is specifically in Jesus. I really appreciated that there was no cop-out here on the author’s part. The protagonist talks plainly and consistently about trusting in Jesus and looking to Jesus for hope. (I admit, I usually get a little twitchy when people use the phrase “trust in Jesus” without explaining how or why; however, in the context of this story, pressing the message further would have felt like the author was shoehorning in an altar call out of a sense of duty.) All told, Centralia presents faith in Jesus as a reality in the characters’ lives, and the author seeks to portray that as honestly as possible.
Bonus props: The “reading group” questions at the back of the copy I got are really challenging. There are some serious issues raised in the book, and I liked that some of the questions they provided didn’t shy away from those issues.
Final Analysis: Centralia is great. I devoured it in the space of a couple of days. If you like action movies and want to enjoy a gripping story without all the foul language and sexual content that pervades so much of popular storytelling, give Centralia by Mike Dellosso a try. I guarantee that I’ll be looking up his other titles.
Please Note: I was provided a complimentary paperback copy of the book by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are my own views.