|Rev Burke Anderson
(creator: Gary E Parker)
|Rev Burke Anderson is, in the first book, the pastor at the First Methodist Church in rural Cascade, near Atlanta in Georgia. He is just 28 and has spent some two years in this, his first job since leaving Wesley Methodist Divinity School. In later books, he becomes a Christian counselor at a Personal Care Clinic, where, convinced Christian though he remains, he "never used his position as a counselor to push his individual faith on anyone". But that doesn't apply to converting his friends!
He says that he has always been "extra serious". He had been converted at the age of 16 and decided then that "he wanted to serve God with his whole life .... His resolve never wavered". So, after doing very well at school and as a psychology major at the University of Georgia, he entered divinity school.
When we first meet him, he is still single and is a rather lonely man with an enthusiasm for jogging. He runs a total of nearly 40 miles a week. He has copper-colored eyes, brown hair and a strong chin. He is "not frail, standing a thin hair short of 6 feet, and weighing in at a well-toned 170 pounds", but he is an epileptic, "a psychomotor epileptic, one who didn't suffer spells often .... but one who still suffered from the anxiety and the shame of the blackouts that accompanied his seizures .... Thankfully, medication had controlled his affliction. But medicine hasn't controlled his fear."
Dr Gary E Parker is the author of over 10 novels as well as other works. Within a couple of weeks of being converted at the age of 18, he had felt called to Christian ministry, receiving his Master of Divinity and later his Ph.D. in historical theology from Baylor University. He served as the senior minister of the first Baptist Church of Jefferson City, Missouri, then moved on to become the senior pastor of the very large First Baptist Church of Decatur, Georgia, from where he resigned in 2006. He has a wife and two daughters.
It makes a lively and interesting story, with unexpected turns, and with a fearsome bunch of villains, including a crooked Senator (and would-be President) who seems to enjoy unlimited power. Burke has a hard time of things, getting badly beaten up and shot, and a total of three women are murdered before an exciting finish in which three separate groups (Burke and Debbi, the senator's hit gang, and the police) all race towards the house where a killer has taken refuge. It all ends in extreme violence with Burke himself getting inviolved in a shooting match with the murderer.
When things seem at their worst, Burke wonders why God does not step in: "If God exists, God will help. If God exists and if God cares. If! His whole life depended on it. Or did it? If God didn't exist, he had no one but himself." This seems realistically treated, but there is some ambiguity about the way he sings gently to a dying dog with words that "guided him to a land where fire hydrants are plentiful and no dog ever gets hit by a car and all dogs have masters who scratched them behind the ears." Just a joke, I hope.
There are other humorous touches too, as when Burke tells a prostitute, "If my church members saw me here they would fire me in a second. You're one birthday present I can't accept."
It makes a strong and fast-paced story, and Burke's epilepsy and his attitude towards it are treated with real understanding. Could this be a subject on which the author has some personal experience? Recommended.
Burke wants nothing more to do with sudden death or the police, but it is he who eventually sees a strange religious pattern in the Advent murders and has to act quickly to prevent a final murder occurring. His epilepsy, by the way, does not even get a mention in this story.
Taking place in Atlanta some two years after the action in the previous book, and six weeks after Burke and Debbi had got married, it makes quite a strong story, and certainly holds the interest, even if it builds up to a melodramatic climax which Is quite unbelievable.
There is a new policeman to dislike, Detective Derrick Role, but Detective Jackie Broadus is still ready to pass on confidential police information to Burke and Debbi as long as Debbi promises not to print it. It is Jackie who explains to Detective Role that Burke "spent a summer working as an intern at prison. Has done a lot of study of the criminal mind. Knows a good bit about what makes killers kill," so might be worth listening to.
It is common in murder mysteries for us to be told little about the victims while they're still alive so that we do not get too upset when they are killed off. This author, however, lets us get to know and empathise with victims before they are threatened, so brings them alive as real human beings.
Burke has given up his role as a pastor, and is working now as a part-time "Christian counsellor" at a Personal Care Clinic while he studies for a PhD, with a speciality in abnormal psychology, at Emory. He is still as concerned as ever to spread the Christian message. When asked by Jackie why God allows so much evil in the world, he explains, "We bring evil into the world through our sin .... Jesus doesn't give us a way out of the world. So long as we're alive, we'll struggle with sin and evil. Not everyone will choose faith. And even those who do will still foul it up from time to time. But Jesus gives us the way out of our sin. Jesus gives us grace, and grace is a way out of evil; it gives us forgiveness." This sort of explanation does not seem to fit too easily into the framework of a fast-moving crime story.
The killer is a particularly sinister character, motivated, we are told, by abuse received as a child. It is Burke who realises that "The wounds (of his victims) bear a striking resemblance to the wounds of Jesus as depicted in the Bible". As a result, he becomes convinced that "Whoever killed these women is mad at someone, I don't know who - mad at God maybe. He blames God for something, wants revenge for something he believes God did to him."
It is a murder victim's husband who tells Burke, "I feel that this whole awful situation will either make me turn bitter and totally reject the possibility of God, or I'll, I don't know, I'll reclaim something I lost somewhere along the way. Can you understand what I'm trying to say?"
Even the murderer has a last-minute repentance and manages to nod when Burke asks, "Do you believe in Jesus Christ as the forgiver of all sin?"
Dark Road to Daylight (1996)
Burke "could say with certainty that Bethany's situation was in the hands of God .... That's what he believed anyway .... and God offered her courage to face it. God extended hope even when she couldn't see any. But God didn't produce all that in an unmistakable display of divine intervention. No, instead, God offered comfort and aid in human form. When God had a job to do, he chose a human to do it." So Burke decides he has no alternative but to use his sleuthing abilities in an attempt to find the missing child.
Then two other under-twos also disappear, and Burke's own life is amongst those threatened. When a child's body is discovered and a close friend is shot and is near to death, "Prayer seemed like the only hope. Not that he believed prayer solved every problem .... That would make prayer a mechanical transaction and God a cosmic candy dispenser. Prayer meant more than that. It meant faith, faith in spite of tough times, faith in spite of cancer and crime. Faith in spite of failed businesses and faltering fortunes. Genuine prayer meant listening to God and for God, listening when nothing but empty silence rolled back into your ears, listening when nothing you asked for ever came to you .... No matter what you called it or him, evil existed. As surely as God and goodness called every human being toward life, so sin and evil called every human being toward death."
Given the choice, Burke would have preferred to have concentrated on his work at the Personal Care Clinic (where he had "the freedom to live out his fate in his vocation") or on helping his wife Debbi look after their newly born little girl, Elizabeth Joy, whose birth is described in a highly realistic way.Could the author be recreating an experience of his own? It reads that way: Burke, "standing halfway between the head and foot of the delivery table .... felt out of place, like a slug at Mensa convention. He didn't know where to stand. If he stood too close to Debbi's head, he couldn't see anything of the actual delivery. On the other hand, if he stood too close to her feet, he would see a lot more than he wanted to see."
Burke is helped again by his old police friend Jackie Broadus who has now been promoted to Lieutenant and moved to Longstreet Station, but she has only been there for a week and so is still establishing herself. One of the more unpleasant of her new colleagues is aggressive detective Cleve Chapman, who turns out to be Bethany's husband, who had abandoned her and filed for a divorce. He had got involved in a messy custody battle but, amazingly enough, still seems allowed to work on the case. Like the murderer in the previous book, he has "black eyes". Not a good sign!
The author is good at building up suspense, and also at arousing sympathy even for such characters as the hired kidnapper, the not-too-bright Rusty Redder, although credibility is rather strained in the way in which, in an overly dramatic and violent climax involving lightning and a tornado, even he suddenly finds God.
But the story is fast moving and well told, and you wonder why this was the last book of the series. Maybe readers found its combination of hard-hitting crime and piety rather hard to take.
|What Rev Burke Anderson believes to be "beyond a reasonable doubt" is the existence of God.|