|Pastor Thomas Wilson
(creator: Tony Burton)
Pastor Thomas Wilson is the pastor at Holly Creek Christian Church but we are told surprisingly little about him beyond the fact that he is "not easily angered" (although he gets livid when a police detective shows a lack of interest in what he is reporting). Despite claiming, "I'm no detective!", he feels it is his responsibilty to make his own enquiries.
He is very happily married to Amy although she is not able to have children of her own. It is she who laughingly describes him as "Mr. Masters-in-Theology" but that is almost all we are told about his qualifications or past life, except that in one of the "bonus" stories we learn that, while at college, he had gone in for wrestling and for helping at the church youth center where he had first met Amy and been able to save her from two young robbers.
He explains that, "As much as they talked about it in seminary, I just never really saw myself as thinking in business terms like 'revenue' and 'offering base' when I became a pastor." His concern is caring for his flock, no matter how inconvenient this may get. As an ex-amateur wrestler, he may resort to force when he has to, but neither he nor his wife ever drink alcohol.
Tony Burton (1956 - ) was born in rural Georgia and grew up there. He says that he has been among other things, a US Navy sailor, a teacher, a college professor, a consultant, a course developer and trainer, a newspaper columnist, an editor, writer and publisher. He has been writing for twenty years and his output includes training and technical manuals, short stories, poetry, and newspaper and magazine articles. He has also self-published two novels (reviewed below) and now teaches creative writing.
He and his wife Lara live in the mountains of NW Georgia. They have four grown-up children: two daughters and two sons.
Blinded by Darkness (2006, revised 2009)
The story gets off to an interesting start with more and more members of the congregation having to slip away from a service with what Brother Gramm describes as "guts cramping up something awful". Could it be that their potluck dinner had been poisoned? The number of people taken ill isn't entirely clear as we are variously told 36, 40 and over 40, but there are certainly enough to worry Pastor Thomas Wilson. Apart from his concern for the individuals affected, there's also the possibility of expensive lawsuits, so he has a duty to track down the cause.
The police do not appear to show much interest, so Pastor Thomas reluctantly becomes a detective with the result that both he and his wife end up as targets of a man who is quite prepared to kill to get the results he wants. So Thomas not only gets forced off the road and almost killed by a "large black pickup" but then, in a moment of rather unconvincing melodrama, nearly himself murdered. Only a trick with loose dentures can save him!
There are scriptural quotes at the start of each chapter, and the pastor often finds time to pray (even when he was at his most troubled, "prayer began to flow as naturally and normally as it always had") but the church's way of addressing each member as Brother This or Sister That makes for some slightly awkward storytelling, even if it is true to life. Thomas himself makes quite a convincing pastor, even when he admits, "Lots of ministers nowadays don't like to talk about the Devil like he's a real, existing being, but I believe he exists, and that he influences people with all his lies."
The storytelling is sometimes a bit slow and ponderous, and we hear too many details about such activities as the Ladies Auxiliary fundraising dinners. Also, some of the conversations sound rather stilted, as when Thomas is talking to Amy about her inability to have children: "We have to believe there is a reason for such things, even when it seems senseless. At least we're getting encouragement from the adoption agency now, and God may have a beautiful child for us there, one without loving parents that we can rear and teach about God's love and grace." But Thomas himself is potentially quite an interesting character.
A Wicked Good Play (2009)
He goes on to witness a school play in which one of the leading actors not only has to pretend to die by poison in front of hundreds of people - but really does so. No wonder it looked such a convincing performance!
Thomas still claims,"I'm not a detective, and I don't want to be. But the truth needs to be discovered, and if I can help the police to do that, then I believe I am doing God's will." So he is quite prepared to risk his life when occasion demands. Towards the end, when he is actually knocked out and even urinated on, he is prepared to put up quite a fight. About to be stabbed, he "grabbed the only thing close to him, the thing he had relied upon so many times for protection and inspiration. He grabbed his large, black study Bible from where it lay on the floor and held it across his chest. The wild thrust of the butcher knife drove it deep through the leather cover and into the pages of the Bible, but not through it." And then, of course, the police arrive and Thomas embraces his wife: "I'm alive, you're alive, and Deanne is alive, and we are together, and God has plans for us. Remember what God said in Jeremiah: 'For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.' God has a work for us, and we're not through with it yet!"
It does not really make a very convincing plot, and, as before, some of the conversations sound distinctly stilted as when Thomas tells his friend Detective Lt Eric Lamonde about the deer-shooting, "It's not sporting, and besides, shooting a high-powered rifle from a vehicle on the highway is both illegal and very dangerous!" Then later on, when Eric tells him that he does not often get to see his 12-year-old son who lives with his ex-wife, and explains, "It's not something I talk about very much," Thomas replies, "Your relationship with your son just became a special part of my prayer list, nonetheless." The words don't exactly flow off the tongue.
There is a certain amount of repetition (we seem to get the deer story told over and over again) and there are pages and pages of conjecture as to what might have happened. However it is helped along by occasional flashes of humor and, although Thomas seems to devote much of his time to his detective work, he still has time to carry out his usual duties, as well as to read the Bible and to pray: "Lord, what is happening here? We fought a battle with Satan over trying to build a new church, and by your grace and assistance the police were able to stop those trying to hinder us. Here is a new threat coming against us, but in a less direct fashion. Evil is attacking someone else, making the church a bystander are we supposed to let this go because the people who are being harmed are not part of the body of Christ? I have a hard time with that, Lord." But he struggles on and proves himself a force to be reckoned with.
|The cover looks a little odd because of the very small lettering. The red patch reads: "Revised Edition! Contains two BONUS short stories!"|