|Sam and Vera Sloan
(creator: Robert L Wise)
|Detective Sam Sloan is a detective at Colorado Springs police station in the Rocky Mountains. He is 39 years old when we first meet him "but he still had the mild, gentle appearance that always deceived suspects into not taking him as seriously as they should." With his brown hair and blue eyes, he had "boyish features that made him appear twenty years old after a long restful weekend".
He had grown up in a tenement house on Chicago's South side that had "proved to be a hard, tough place to survive". He'd shown himself to be "quite a scrapper, usually winning. But he'd been beaten up enough times that he developed a nasty temper, which still proved to be a problem .... Two people seem to live inside his head: on one side, an angry street warrior with the capacity to whack an aggressor in a second; at the same time, a kind, sensitive Samaritan, caring about people and what happened to them." Having to kill "deeply troubled" him.
He is married to Vera and they have a daughter called Cara who is aged 10 in the first book. As he told Cara, "I don't think there's anything in this world more important than trying to walk each day with love in our hearts." He tells her too about his own youthful conversion when his boxing instructor had explained to him, "Jesus' way wasn't to hit people first but to do everything he could to defend the down-and-out . Slowly I began to recognise what the Bible meant. Cara, that afternoon changed my life. Everything I've done since then has been conditioned by my encounter with the Scriptures." He may be "no preacher, but I believe that when I hit the front door of the Station house, I'm doing God's will as much as anybody in America." He doesn't think that he is "simply chasing criminals. We are part of a spiritual warfare where some of the people on this planet have decided to line up with evil. If we don't stop them, there's no end to how much havoc they'll create. When the battle is on, good people have to be tough or they'll get run over."
Vera Sloan is equally committed to her Christian faith but feels that her husband Sam too often does not have enough time for her and their young daughter Cara because of his devotion to his police work: "I love you, Sam," she tells him. "I just don't like your job very much." However she "found Sam's murder cases to be intriguing" and suggests to Sam that she too should get involved in them: "You know that I'm good at asking the right questions. Every now and then I come up with an important insight. Why not make me the wall that you bounce thoughts off of?" Together they are to make an impressive team.
She was of Dutch heritage and had grown up on a farm in rural Shelton in Iowa. When she was 12, she had been bundled off to a church camp, as a result of which she had "moved from being a difficult, demanding little girl to a young woman operating out of a faith center." She went on to take a degree in criminology.
Robert L Wise, who as a child had been adopted from a concentration camp Jewish family, went on to attend Phillips University, the University of Central Oklahoma, Phillips Seminary and the California Graduate School of Theology, earning a Masters of Divinity and a PhD in combined studies in psychology with theology.After spending more than thirty-five years traveling and planting churches all over the world (and working as a bishop behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe in the 80s), he is now an Archbishop in the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches. He is the author of more than thirty published books (including the three books in the Sam Sloan series, the first of which is reviewed below) as well as numerous articles. He is married with grown-up children and lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The Empty Coffin (2001)
It is all a bit slow moving at first, but the growing understanding between Sam and his wife, and his relations with his daughter young Cara are convincingly described, and the reader gradually gets more and more involved. "Why doesn't Daddy talk to me more?" ten-year-old Cara asks her mother. After Vera tells him this, he makes a real effort to talk to her. His wife later tells him, "I want you to know how important your conversation with Cara was. She talked to me yesterday and said your conversation with her was a real turning point in her life. Those were her exact words. 'Turning point' !" It sounds rather precocious language for a ten-year-old - but the emotion behind it seems real enough. As does the occasion when Vera belatedly discovers that Sam's duties will prevent him coming to the very special Thanksgiving dinner to which she has invited her parents. She gets very angry with him about this but comes to realise, as she prays, "I felt cut out of the excitement of the chase and that's what angered me so significantly. I wasn't a partner in the pursuit." Once again the language sounds a bit stilted but the experience sounds real as she goes on, "Please forgive me for getting so angry when things don't go the way I want them to."
Rather surprisingly, Jester gets rounded up less than two thirds of the way through the book. This provides an exciting episode, and after that there is still a body to discover although the drama gradually fades away. Sam himself is quite unscrupulous in threatening and even lying to suspects in order to get them to incriminate themselves and has perfected his "good cop bad cop" routine. But it is Vera who discovers where the corpse is hidden. As she tells Sam, "Until I got tough with you, Sam, you slid around here like a bumper car. You came and went from this house more like a yo-yo than a husband."
Although the book is written by a bishop, it only gets a little too pious towards the end when Sam asks Ape, the huge vagrant who admitted, " I ain't the brightest guy in the world", but who had first told him about the murder.
It also seems a bit much when Sam claims, "We believe that Jesus Christ died on the tree, and we know Allan (the murder victim in this story) died at the foot of one. Maybe in that last struggle, God granted him the peace that he needed to leave this world. Obviously, the hand of God has been upon this investigation, bringing it to a quick conclusion."
There is sometimes some rather clumsy dialogue, but the opening situation grabs attention and it certainly raises important questions. Sam had seen himself as "God's agent to keep people on the right track", as Vera had put it. So why did God let this tragedy happen? Her pastor told her, "I don't believe that anyone in this whole world can give you a satisfactory explanation to answer your pain .... God's purposes aren't as easy to fathom as we often think. Most of the time it takes a long while to figure out what He has in mind .... I think that it's in the midst of our helplessness we generally find the help of God." This sounds very much like the author speaking from his own pastoral experience.
It is Cara who discovers the villain's identity hidden behind the mysterious initials A.M. but she decides "Until I get some additional insight it will be my secret." A very dangerous thing to do in detective stories! However, as her mother had told her that "All the complicated word processing and computer data is basically originated as a gift from God", she "flipped open her Bible" and read that "if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God." So she prayed for help, then switched on her computer and her prayer is answered. Her mother subsequently tells her, "Your target, A.M., isn't particularly different from the gladiators who fought to the death in their struggle to survive the Romans and their cruelty. I imagine this character has trouble even thinking about what's right and wrong. Criminals often have problems with moral issues." It all sounds very naive. Then, after she does get around to telling Sam, and he tells his boss, the chief deduces, "That's important. Real important." A statement of the obvious, surely?
Meanwhile, Sam encounters a lead through the FBI that exposes the Sloan family to great personal danger, but helped by his Arab friend and colleague, Basil Abbas, who not only worked for the Jordan secret police but "knew every technical aspect of American police work" and, rather tiresomely keeps quoting from the early church Fathers, he finally succeeds in capturing the master criminal. And, to add the final touch, Sam quotes the book of Ecclesiastes at him!
The author is no computer expert so the basic plot is not exactly convincing but there are some really exciting if very violent action sequences, particularly towards the end of the book, even if the dialogue can sound stilted and the religious references seem rather dragged in.
|The cover does not give much away.|