“I don’t know. I don’t go to church, I don’t have any religious friends, I don’t like the christian radio stations, I drink, I don’t feel like baptists would like me anymore than I like them. I read but cannot understand the Old Testament. Sometimes,” I said, and paused. “Sometimes I don’t even think God likes me very much, though I know that’s not true. Whatever that is, that’s what I am.”
Now here’s an intriguing book, part of an intriguing series. A Christian mystery series, which many Christians will hate. The Last Teacher is a sort of prequel to the Mack August series by Alan Lee.
Mackenzie August is a former cop and former underground cage fighter. Also a former youth pastor. A single father. Now he’s taken a job as a middle school teacher in the small town of South Hill, Virginia. Just trying to figure out where he belongs in the world, and puzzling over God’s will. He’s pretty sure that will does not include a relationship with the hot teacher who starts throwing herself at him from the day he arrives.
Shortly thereafter, he discovers the body of a fellow teacher, shot to death in the school yard. Mack isn’t sure whether he’ll make a good teacher, but he’s a good detective. He’ll need to be, especially when another teacher is murdered in the same way. Mack begins to realize that someone is fixating on him, killing the people around him out of some kind of twisted obsession. That’s personal enough, but when his baby son gets kidnapped, it becomes a matter of life and death.
Alan Lee is a very brave writer, braver than I am, for good or ill. He grapples head-on with one of the major challenges facing Christian fiction writers today: the problem of realistic language. The time has passed when you could get away with having worldly and depraved characters confine themselves to expletives like “gosh” and “darn.” The audience expects people to talk the way they would in real life. That means using language most of us don’t want to spread around.
Author Lee uses that language. The book isn’t full of profanity or obscenity, but it’s there. It will shock and offend many Christian readers. But it’s possible that Lee isn’t writing for the healthy, but for the sick, who are in need of a physician, as the Gospel says.
One of the many things I liked about The Last Teacher was Mack’s voice as narrator. He speaks in the tradition of Philip Marlowe, that tough guy/erudite voice with just a hint of self-mockery. Alan Lee writes this kind of stuff very well indeed. I laughed often as I read. Another trope in detective stories is gorgeous women throwing themselves at the hero. That’s present in these books too, with the novelty of the hero resisting those women.
I found the final resolution a little implausible, but that may just be due to personal prejudices.
If you’re morally offended by bad language in Christian stories, stay away from the Mack August books. But if you’re open to it, there’s a good time reading to be had here.
Recommended, with the aforementioned cautions.