(creator: S L Linnea)
|Chaplain (Major) Jaime Lynn Richards is 5' 7" tall with plaited blonde hair and "piercing green eyes". She is in her late 30s. She had earned her Master's in History of World Religions at Princeton Theological Seminary, then, as a Presbyterian minister, she had worked as an assistant pastor at a church in Springfield, Missouri, before deciding to become an Army chaplain. Three years later she had met her ex-professor Paul by chance at Rome airport and it was not long before they got married. After only three months, he had being killed by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem. And both her parents had (apparently) been killed while returning to a Pakistani relief camp, her father being a doctor who had been engaged in important medical research work.
Jaime likes her army life and takes her counselling work very seriously, but finds it easier to believe with her head than with her heart. God does not always seem as near as He once did.
S L Linnea is a pen name for the two authors, Sharon Linnéa and B.K. Sherer.
Sharon Linnéa is an award-winning biographer, novelist, and journalist. Her father was a senior pastor and she grew up in Park Forest, Illinois and Springfield, Missouri, and says that she has always enjoying telling stories. She majored in English at Wheaton, but transferred to New York University for her last two years. She worked in editorial book and magazine publishing, and also wrote her own books and plays, and published inspirational biographies of, amongst others, Princess Ka'iulan and Raoul Wallenberg. She became a full-time freelance writer, acted as a ghostwriter for dozens of celebrities, and also worked on the multi-faith website, Beliefnet. She married theater director Robert Owens Scott. They have two children and live outside of New York City.
B. K. Sherer holds a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a doctorate from Oklahoma State University . A Presbyterian minister, she has served on active duty as a chaplain in the United States Army. Her work has taken her to Argentina, Somalia, Korea, Costa Rica, Germany, Kuwait and Iraq. She has been a close friend of Sharon Linnéa since their schooldays. She explains how one of them gets an idea, then the other adds to it, "and it gets rolling until you can’t really identify where anything originated. Ultimately, though, Sharon is the one who normally writes it down." We are never told what the B K stands for.
Chasing Eden (2006)
It turns out to be an interesting, and at times exciting, if ultimately absurd, hunt for the missing Garden of Eden, involving not just the fighting in Iraq, but the Ur ziggurat, strange adventures in Babylon, and frustrated Aryans still determined to create a master race. It is an altogether fantastic story that does not really need the disclaimer that the Department of Defence insisted should be included that: "The views presented in this book are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defence or its components." Well, that's a relief anyway. It is, in fact, the war scenes at the start of the story that are the best handled and by far the most convincing. The villains, on the other hand, like media mogul Coleman Satis (who wants to find Eden because, as he quotes from an ancient inscription: "Who Rules Eden Rules the World .... and I do plan on that being me"), seem to have come straight from the pages of fantasy.
And it takes another turn for the novelettish when Jaime's new friend and ally Yani is taken prisoner along with her, and, to her surprise, kisses her. We are told that "It was an open mouthed, proprietary kiss. He was tall and made of steel, and everything in his demeanour said he knew what he was doing. Jay fought to hide the fact that even in this most unlikely of circumstances, her body had ignited like a brush fire". More realistic is a particularly nasty incident in which Coleman Satis deliberately slashes the wrist of a nine-year-old boy. This is really uncomfortable to read.
It is perfectly true that many historical artefacts were stolen from Baghdad Museum - but it is hard to believe that they included a magical Sword of Life, "purported to be the spear that pierced the side of Jesus Christ during the crucifixion" that would indicate the way to the Garden of Eden, and that Hussein had flooded large areas of southern Iraq, not to punish insurgents, but as part of his own plan to discover Eden. We are told that "Rumour is that someone has found it (Eden). Rumor has it that that's why this war really started." Or, as Coleman Satis put it, "The war is not really about weapons of mass destruction .... Nor is it about the 'evil' of Saddam Hussein, or the corporate need for oil, all of those were convenient premises for launching the invasion. A good war - excuse me, a controlled conflict - in the right hands brings us closer to a New, and much preferred, World Order." Believe that, and you'll believe anything.
Jaime herself is an interesting character. It is she who points out, "The idea of original sin, that the world was a wonderful place before Adam and Eve sinned, but since they did, all humans are conceived in sin and born already with the sinful nature, that is not in either Jewish or Christian Scriptures .... The whole idea that humankind is inherently fallen and sinful from birth was put forth later by a theologian named Augustine, who was nearly killed in proposing such a radical idea." She goes on to explain, "Just because I don't believe God dictated the Bible word for word to only one ancient holy man doesn't mean I can't hold it in reverence as a work inspired by God. In fact, my tradition believes that God not only inspired the various writers, editors and translators, but that God inspires each of us even today in the reading and hearing of the Word." Yet it is she who becomes convinced that the Garden of Eden is still there to be found.
The book is written in short sections which makes it easy to read, although the frequent headings such as April 9, 2003, 1:40 A.M. Logbase Rock Tallil Airfield Southern Iraq can conveniently be skipped. Eventually it is revealed that "The garden currently exists under the Gulf .... It is not some magical place" but "No traceable communication transmissions are allowed between Eden and the outside world ... There is no free passage between the two worlds. Even the Edenites themselves don't know the way in and out. If they feel called to go out into the wider world, they are approved for a door opening - which happens only at certain times. The most it ever happens is twice a year. .... but former Edenites are at work quietly bringing peace and healing throughout the world .... We still walk with God in the cool of the day. And we believe, as you do, who rules Eden rules the world. We just happened to be clearer about Who that is."
That's where the book ends. Except that there's an incredibly long list of acknowledgements in which literally dozens of people are profusely thanked, including even Sharon's nieces, "both so creative that I expect to be best known to the ages as a footnote in their biographies" and BK's "mom and dad. I knew you are here in spirit, and in many ways, you are responsible for the completion of this book." There is then an excerpt from the next book in the series, an interview with the authors, and 14 "Discussion Questions", the first of which is "Do you identify with Jaime Richards - her spirit, courage, loyalty? Why or why not? Do you identify more with another character? When you read, how often do you identify with the character? Does that affect your enjoyment of a book?" Here's a suggestion for a no.15: "Isn't the plot just plain silly?" And no. 16: "Don't you feel cheated by the way the book ends?"
Beyond Eden (2007)
Jaime has chosen to return to the "Terris" world as an Operative of Eden. As well as Operatives, there were Messengers , and above them both were Swords. "Messengers lived full-time in the Terris world. They picked up and delivered messages to and from the Swords exiting and returning to Eden. Operatives, on the other hand, were stationed in the Terris world and were trained to intervene in situations to which they were assigned."
Jaime's assignment is to look into a series of five kidnappings that are fatally and tragically connected, for the victims are all descendants of Eden, and they have the gene that people outside of Paradise want: a way to extend life. Most of the kidnapped are children, but they include a man kidnapped after a terrorist chemical attack on London in 2005. Of course there never really was a chemical attack in London. However, all these kidnappings certainly get the story off to an interesting start.
It is not long, though, before the action starts jumping around from one place to another, and on two occasions a chapter ends with a gun being pointed at somebody's head before the authors cut away to somewhere else. And Jaime keeps on getting attacked and kidnapped. "Jaime's first coherent thought was that she needed to get a supply of T-shirts that read: You Knock Me Out, to hand out to the brotherhood of people who seemed intent on rendering her unconscious. It was becoming a popular sport." If only there was more of this sort of humor throughout.
But there are some interesting parts as when Jaime remembers when she was a teenager and mourning her parents, and a pastor had taken her up in his aeroplane and told her, "Your pain is shattering, and deep, and real. But if you can trust that God mourns with you in this, instead of being the cause of it, the transformation can begin. It's not something you do. It's something you hand over .... If you come to a time that you choose to let go of your pain, God will turn it inside out. Inside-out pain becomes empathy, and it becomes the greatest gift in the world to you to give to others." And so she herself had eventually become ordained.
All this sounds so very much more likely than when she finds herself almost drowning in the River of Life below the monastery of St John in Patmos, the island where St John supposedly wrote Revelation, and which contains a large underground complex, complete with electric lights, and a "high-tech office space", together with a control console, a virtual reality room, and even a filing cabinet headed "Current Projects"!
Characters like the millionaire Nestor Allende who was willing to spend his fortune on a search for everlasting life, and his unlikey wife Geri, with her simplistic religious views, who believed that she would be swept up to heaven in the final Rapture, are far from convincing. It is also hard to imagine Geri punishing her rich unfaithful husband by tying him naked to the bed and attacking him with a wooden hairbrush "and even worse, much worse, a glass of ice water that also contained a peeled and whittled piece of ginger root."
Geri has a vision involving angels, trumpets, and the Apostle John, after which, understandably enough, all that Jaime could say was "Holy shit". It turns out that this particular vision was a product of the virtual reality room - if only the same could be said for the whole fantasy about Eden.
The ever-resourceful kidnapped 15-year-old Daniel, and the 11-year-old desperately ill Swedish boy who befriends him, both seem to behave in a remarkably adult way but the reader still feels very involved in their efforts to escape, however improbable they may be. And parts of the story are quite exciting and really hold the interest. One of these is when Jaime has to try to save Yani's life by taking instructions from a Doctor via her handheld on how to plunge a scalpel right into his chest and replace it with a straw. It makes really uncomfortable reading.
Although God's role in Eden is far from clear, religious issues do emerge on earth, as when Geri asks Jaime, "What is our purpose? What does God want us to do?"
Right at the end of the book, upset and disillusioned, Jaime decides she'll go back to being a proper army chaplain and "a life of peace and quiet". Unfortunately, she then gets her next assignment from Eden. Let's hope she resists the temptation, because she is quite an interesting and lively character and could well hold the interest without all the fantastic trappings.
Treasure of Eden (2008)
Jaime, for her part, has to find the treasure before it - and its secrets - fall into the wrong hands, for, as we are told on the cover, "the future of the entire world is at stake". It would be awkward doing this as a full-time army chaplain, but fortunately "she was officially taking her mid-tour leave". She had returned to work as an Eden Operative because she had been offered an assignment that involved economic stress search and tracking of world financial issues and would, she hoped, keep her out of the frontline. But she is soon as heavily involved as ever.
It is another story that, like the curate's egg, is good in parts. The best parts are those describing life in a Bedouin encampment when 15-year-old Yasmin is preparing to escape the molestations of her step-father, by becoming the latest wife of the old Hajj, the head man of the community. She has a problem with this as it was part of the wedding that women would hold you down in the bridegroom's tent, "then your bridegroom came to you with the cloth of honor. He would come and put his hand up under your dress, up inside your female part. He would twist hard. If you had honor, there would be blood. The cloth would be shown to the men, then taken outside and shown to the women. Then the bride would be a wife, and the celebration would move on to a new level." But, thanks to her step-father, Yasmin was no longer a virgin.
The weakest parts, as always, are those directly connected with the hidden underground community of Eden. It turns out that "agents of Eden (who called themselves gardeners) were present when Jesus was teaching". It is explained that part of what they always do is "pay attention to who is in the Terris world that deserves special attention, who we can learn from, whom we can share their wisdom with, who should be invited to come into the garden community." Are the authors really suggesting that Jesus was invited to join the Eden community? It all seems to get more and more absurd, as when Jaime is told that "as a matter of fact, a gardener was known to be in Jesus's inner circle. He wasn't one of the twelve who became known as apostles, but he did spend time alone with him." Unfortunately though, this particular gardener, who was called Yacov, was killed before he had a chance of writing it all down and sending it back to Eden!
As in the previous book, two chapters end with guns being pointed at victims' heads before we suddenly cut away to somewhere else - and, generally speaking, it is much the mixture as before. At one stage Jaime is about to make love to a rock star who had been a good friend of her husband's, when she is quite literally saved by the bell - in this case, the ringing of a telephone. But, later on, when she is buried alive in a landfall inside a cave with her old flame Yari, and they (unlike the reader) think they are about to die, she not only agrees to marry him, but, as she is a chaplain, carries out the ceremony there and then. There is no mention that, although Yari looks to be very fit and in his 30s, he is actually 89 years old, as explained in the previous book. But what difference does a few years make?
Let the last word be with Jaime herself who at one point declares, "This can't possibly be real."
Apparently there is to be another book called Serpent of Eden in which we are told what happened during those three years that Jaime spent in Paradise. Could this be the most unconvincing one of all?
EdenThrillers have their own website, complete with dramatic music. Sharon Linnéa also has her own site.
|Sharon Linnéa (above) and B.K. Sherer (below).|
|The first story gets off to a realistic start in warring Iraq, but then verges off into the fantastic.|