Ugh Book Review: The Rook by Steven James (Patrick Bowers Series)

The Rook Steven JamesThe Rook by Steven James

FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers has been investigating a series of arsons when the latest strike hits a research facility at a U.S. naval base. With his own criminology research being turned against him and one of the world’s most deadly devices missing, Bowers is caught up in a race against time to stop an international assassin before it’s too late.

I won’t get into the plot; it’s pretty much the above except with lots of symbolic rubbish thrown in to make this book feel weightier and more serious than the mediocre populist fiction that it is.

We’ve got all the tropes: the family member Patrick has a difficult relationship with (in this case his teenage stepdaughter), the criminal who doesn’t brush away spiders that land and crawl on him in his warehouse (get it?? he’s EEEEEVILL), the criminal mastermind who offers a lowlife the choice of walking through two doors (yes they are actual doors, I’m not messing with you guys) titled “Freedom” or “Pain” and the lowlife chooses “Pain” because he’s TWISTED kids, the repetitive, pseudo-menacing references to a grand master plot without any coherent criminal activities being described…Oh and let’s not forget the random migrant storyline, because what transforms a book into a “real” crime novel is some local, urban flavor so for Pinocchio to be a real boy you need to include a shoutout to the California setting.

It’s all so terribly cliched and imitative of other, somewhat better crime novels of the past 50 years. I appreciate that Steven James was trying – but if psychological darkness and the sense of menace and adrenaline contingent upon wide-ranging, shadowy criminal plots aren’t your strengths, for heaven’s sake stick to a more traditional crime-followed-by-investigation plot, and keep it low concept. Many male crime writers don’t seem to realize that you don’t need to have the government and/or the fate of the world involved in every plot.

I haven’t had much luck with Christian suspense fiction. As soon as I branched outward from Dee Henderson I was disappointed again and again. Steven James is just the latest; his series The Patrick Bowers Files includes eight books, all with over four star ratings, and most with over 4.2 stars, which for Goodreads is extremely high. Of course, I tend to discount all ratings after the third book in any given series, because at that point only the author’s devotees are reading; anyone who was mildly dissatisfied with the first two books had already stopped. Later books in series tend to cater solely to readers whose tastes align perfectly with the author.

In some cases, the fanbase is discerning enough that, even as they religiously read the entire series, ratings do reflect actual quality – i.e. Dee Henderson’s The Negotiator, True Honor, and Danger in the Shadows are among her highest-rated books on Goodreads among the dozens she’s written and pop up more frequently on fan-voted lists, and deservedly, because they’re her best. However even her weakest efforts, e.g. The Rescuer, the final book in the O’Malley series, got 4.3 stars (I gave it 3, for the record).

All that to say, Christian suspense readers seem to have tastes that align exactly with the larger populace; 30% of what they love is genuinely stellar, 40% is perfectly competent but mediocre writing, and 30% is barely intelligible rubbish.

This novel made me miss Tom Clancy, whom I haven’t read since I was a teenager. That man knew his stuff.

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One thought on “Ugh Book Review: The Rook by Steven James (Patrick Bowers Series)

  1. […] Christian fiction adventures […]



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