Pamela Kay Noble Brown lives in Columbia, South Carolina, with her husband Virgil Brown. She says she enjoys writing, acting, reading, bowling, and rollerskating. She is the author of several self-published books, mostly fiction, including The Mountains of Holly Church mysteries, the first of which is reviewed below.
Kayla Wannamaker has been church secretary to Bishop Harold Goodflow at the Mountains of Holly Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, for almost six months when we first meet her. "She'd been searching for work after having been laid off her last three jobs in rapid succession" when she happened to meet and impress the Bishop. At the time she had just ventured into the world of writing and self publishing although "she hadn't counted on what an uphill battle marketing would be". So she had tried going to nearby stores to "slip a card with her book information into the books on the shelf that were already for sale." It was then that the Bishop had spotted her and asked her what she was doing.
We are told hardly anything else about her not even her age or appearance. But she emerges as a conscientious, exuberant young woman, even if she is rather naive: when she had watched Princess Diana's wedding on television some years before, "She'd been stunned at the awesome splendour of St Paul's Cathedral at the time, and Mountains of Holly was just as beautiful".
Altars of Deception (2012)
Altars of Deception sees Kayla, as newly appointed church secretary at Mountains of Holly Baptist Church, being welcomed by her new church family, including Bishop Goodflow's close friend and active church member Detective Willie Kincaid who was "easy on the eyes". But one day Kayla answered the church phone and got nothing in response but heavy breathing. Then she started finding crazy threatening letters in the church mail, addressed to the "so-called Bishop" ("That's strange, thought Kayla") with the message, "You ruined my life!!!" It seemed designed to harm "the spotless reputation" of Bishop Goodflow and take down "one of the most well-respected mega churches in the world". Meanwhile "First Lady" (which is how the Bishop refers to his wife, Lillie) has suddenly turned against her, and she cannot imagine why. Eventually it all ends up in a melodramatic climax in which unlikely secrets are revealed.
It is a gossipy rather than a gripping plot (the author is at her best when describing episodes like moving house when Kayla has to drive a great truck to fetch her furniture), but the dialogue often sounds stilted as when the bishop tells Kayla, "This economy has been pretty tough on everyone, but I will add you to our prayer list at church and ask God's blessings on you and your endeavours." And it's not exactly scintillating:
"Hi Kayla, hi Willie" said Randy.
"Hi Willie," said Kayla.
"What's up buddy?" said Willie.
"Man that was some service." (Shouldn't this have been: "Man, that was some service,") said Randy.
"Yes it was," agreed James "where's Margie?"
The characters sometimes sound a bit too good to be true. When Kayla told the Bishop that she had been "look (I think she meant looking) and praying, praying and looking" and applying "for every job in three counties and nobody was calling me back", he immediately offered her a job, telling her that it was God who had prevented anyone answering her job applications, for "When your steps are ordered by the Lord no matter how many doors you knock on he's not going to allow the wrong one to open. He loves you too much for that. When it's the right door, you won't even have to fight that hard. It'll feel like He's pouring you out blessings from the windows of heaven."
"Glory!" shouted Kayla.
Equally unlikely is the way that First Lady suddenly decides, for no very adequate reason, that the Bishop had been unfaithful to her and goes off in a sulk. This is treated like high drama and takes too many pages of explanation. Of course it all ends happily: as First Lady tells him, "Even in the strongest of marriages, satan (with a small s) comes to try to kill, steal and destroy. But praise God, the devil is a lie, and once again we've got the victory."
"Amen to that," said Harold.
Pages are devoted to events that seem to have little (if anything) to do with the main plot, so, after the Bishop had been interrupted by a man in the front row shouting, "You ruined my life" again and again, just before he had addressed the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, the author still goes on at considerable length to tell us all the details of his speech, in which he had explained his plan for helping the unemployed: "We want to approach the 70 largest corporations here in Columbia and ask them would they agree to hire 70 people each. Once we get their written agreement, we will then go to the unemployment office to find candidates." After reassuring them that "We wouldn't send a chef to a welding company nor vice versa", he asked them to help him start off these new employees on $30,000 per year, as the minimum wage is not enough to live on. He wants to collect funds to pay the first month's salary so employers can try them out at no cost to themselves and "in addition each of the participating companies will get seven months of free advertising in pages of the Mountains of Holly Worldwide Newsletter". So he has to raise a total of $12,250,000.00. Once again it all sounds too good to be true - and the story of the scheme is not even followed up.
There is some unnecessary repetition too as when the story of the anonymous letters is explained in detail three times over. There's a lot of praying (we are told every word of such prayers) and the book is indeed dedicated "with gratitude to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for His love and mercy", so author and character seem to have much in common. But the author can write with a gentle sense of humor as when, right at the start, the Bishop asked Kayla, "Anything urgent this morning?"
"No, everything's been pretty quiet," said Kayla. "I've just been sitting here doing my morning praise and meditation."
"Yes, and did you receive a word from the Lord?" asked Harold.
"Well, I, ah...," Kayla stammered.
"Don't even try it missy," laughed Harold. "We'll just leave that alone." There's an affectionate portrayal of this bishop later on as he plays with his six young sons (three pairs of twins!).
And it's fun when Kayla, who thoroughly dislikes the way First Lady keeps addressing her as sweetie pie, is rung one morning. " 'Good morning sweetie pie,' rang out Lillie's cheerful voice.
'Good morning, First Lady,' said Kayla. 'How are you?'
'Blessed and highly favored this morning,' said Lillie. 'Be a doll and get Harold on the line for me with you?'
'Sure one moment sweetie pie,' said Kayla. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. We're going to have a sweetie pie good time of it."
However, the author could have done with the help of an experienced editor who might have helped her to avoid some of the self-publishing hazards (and perhaps encourage her to divide the narrative into separate chapters to make it easier to read). Ironically, in the story, Kayla had been told by First Lady that her already self published book wasn't really "quite ready for publication yet. What I'd like to do, with your permission, is have our editors work on the plot structure and fill in some gaps. We have a top notch staff of editors in our Mountains of the Ministries of World Publications Division. Then when we get it tightened up a bit, we can publish a revised edition." It's a pity they weren't available to help the author too.
The author has her own blog and page on Smashwords.
Please sign my GUEST BOOK. All comments, contributions (or corrections) welcomed!
Return to CONTENTS LIST