Sunday, July 09, 2006

Death on Beacon Hill & The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney

I went to an auction at an antique/rummage shop today. The plan was to pick up some books for Mom and I to sell, but I was excited about going because there was a 19th century copy of Dante's Divine Comedy there. I found it there six years ago and fell in love with it, but the dealer wanted $100 for it, which is way beyond my budget. There was so much stuff for sale, there were several tarps set up outside as well as piles and piles inside of the store. I found the book right where it had sat for all these years along with several other antique books I thought about bidding on as well. The bidding started outside with glassware, and while it's pretty, I don't have a place or much use for it. So I sat in the hot sun acquiring a sunburn waiting for the books to brought outside. When the auctioneer moved on to furniture, I went back into the building to look at the book again. The entire stack of books was gone. I approached the dealer and found out that he'd been selling stuff inside the store the entire time the auction was going on outside, and the books had been sold. That's not how auctions are supposed to work! The whole point is competition to drive the price up and give everyone a chance at each item. I left without buying anything. The sky had been getting dark all afternoon, and as I drove across town towards home, lightning started flashing across the sky. I pulled in the driveway to the sound of thunder and not thirty seconds after I got in the door, a deluge of rain hit. I was so angry about the book, I was nearly in tears telling Jesse about it, but after I watched the rain and imagined myself sitting outside waiting for those books to come up for sale, I realized that God had blessed me by not answering my unspoken prayer for the book. I was home under a secure (more or less) roof, dry and safe, while everyone at the auction was probably soaked to the bone, as were many of the boxes and boxes of things sitting out under tarps. This is a lesson I'm going to try and hold on to.

Death on Beacon Hill by P.B. Ryan is the third entry in the Gilded Age series starring governess Nell Sweeney. This is another outstanding book full of great mystery and snappy repartee between Nell and her beau Will Hewitt. In this book, Nell is asked to look into the death of Fiona, the niece of the Hewitt's driver, after she's accused of theft and the murder of her employer, Virginia Kimball, a famous actress. The chemistry between Nell and Will sparks the entire book, and there's a fabulous passage from Nell's view about how closely Will is coming to touch the frosted glass that must exist between them. It's powerfully and beautifully written. Ryan never hesitates to show the darker side of Boston's elite, but she always handles it so tastefully, much like Nell who must navigate the waters of the elite with the curse of an Irish surname and always comes out looking like a lady. Will finds the excuse to let them show some of their feelings for each other in public, but I wonder how long it will last. Of course, at least for a few pages, as in the rest of the books so far, the reader is allowed to believe that Harry Hewitt could have committed the murder, perhaps someday he actually will have. I miss the interaction between Nell and her employer Viola, and I hope that Ryan will make further use of it in future books.

The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney by Randy Singer is an amazing ride of a Christian apologetics book crossed with a suspense novel. The blurb on the back of this book does not do it justice, and it's had to sum up the plot in just a few words. A mysterious billionaire is told he only has a year to live, so he coordinates a reality TV show starring proponents of the world's leading religions. Each advocate must present the case for their religion in front of the world while secluded from it on an island. Judge Oliver Finney is an unusual pick to defend Christianity, but he's up for the challenge, knowing it will be the last one he ever faces. But there's so much more going on! Singer does a surprisingly good job of mixing the apologetics arguments with the action of the story. And he manages to do it without denigrating the other religions and giving each of them support and a place to present their arguments. I was extremely impressed with Singer's fairness. In the end, Oliver only makes one convert to Christianity, but it's not because of his arguments or case in court, it's because of how he lived his life, which is a lesson for all of us. Nikki Moreno is one of the stars of this book, and I'm a bit disappointed in the lack of growth in her character. She's made appearances in all of Singer's other books, and at the end of each one seems to grow a bit and find some faith, yet at the beginning of the next book is always back to square one: egotistical and unbelieving. Maybe there's a lesson in that for us as well. I hope in Singer's next book the growth she's made in this one sticks. This is a great book no matter how you look at it, full of suspense, faith, and facts. I would say it's actually a fun book to read; I had a hard time putting it down.

I'm almost done reading Murder on the Mauretainia, and I'm not sure what I'll dive into next. The temperature has dropped more than 10 degrees since the storm and it's beautiful outside. Enjoy the rest of the weekend!