‘Flawed Players’ and ‘Aces Full,’ by Alan Lee

The economy of Portsmouth was propped up on freight shipping, mountains of it. There was no new construction but this part of town looked healthy. Like, we have enough money but we don’t want nice things because sailors might break them. (Aces Full)

Jason Bourne for fans of John Eldridge.

That’s my current thumbnail description of Alan Lee’s Mack August books, my current semi-guilty obsession.

Mack, as I’ve mentioned, is a big, strong, intrepid Christian private eye in Roanoke, Virginia, the single father of an infant. I’m reading his books so fast (in spite of recent resolutions to spend less on books) that I’m going to review two at once tonight.

Flawed Players has Mack hired by a local academic, who faces a prison sentence for stealing stuff from the neighbors in his tony neighborhood. All the stuff was found in his office closet, and he swears he has no idea how it got there. His argument is weakened, however, by the fact that he’s a classic absent-minded professor, and could conceivably have done it and forgotten. However, it’s hard to figure a motive for the crime.

On a closer, more personal level, someone close to Mack has been murdered. He discovers that the organized crime figures whose noses he’s been tweaking know how to hold a grudge.

In Aces Full, Mack is hired to find evidence to mitigate the sentence of a confessed murderer named Grady Huff. Grady is rich, entitled, and the biggest ass Mack has ever met. But his lawyer thinks there’s something more beyond his story that he killed his house cleaner purely on a whim.

Meanwhile, Mack is learning more about the woman he loves, the incandescent “Ronnie” Summers. She has dark secrets, and deep obligations to some very bad people. Mack conceives a plan to set her free, centered on an epic underworld poker game, which will take a dramatic and unexpected turn.

I’ve described this series as a Christian one, but I’m ambivalent about using that term. It’s Christian in the sense that the hero is a Christian, trying to live a Christian life. But he’s not the kind of Christian you’d expect – his best friend is a corrupt US Marshal, and another friend is the local cocaine distributor – who also goes to his church.

I’m reminded in one sense of the minor controversy that exists around Veggie Tales. The Veggie Tales videos are clever and entertaining productions promoting Christian values. But, as some have noted, they’re not Christian in the sense of sharing the gospel. They’re all Law.

In the same way, a reader of the Mack August books might come away thinking that Christianity is just a set of rules to live by – and most of us wouldn’t stand up as well as Mack does to the extreme temptations he faces. Even his cocaine-merchant friend has asked him whether he’s shared the Good News with Ronnie (who would appear to need it desperately), but Mack never gets around to it.

So I’m still not sure what to say about these books from a theological perspective.

But I sure am having fun reading them. (In spite of some homophone problems in spelling.)

Recommended, with cautions for adult themes, violence, and language.

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