The Devil’s Workshop, by Stephen J. Cannell

I’ve been enjoying television writer and producer Stephen J. Cannell’s novels recently, as you may have noticed. The Devil’s Workshop did not disappoint me in terms of story or character (I found the ending especially moving), but I’m glad I didn’t read it first, because it might have turned me off his work from the outset.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about Cannell’s books is that he seems to rise above the reflexive liberalism of the Hollywood community which is his natural environment. I won’t call his books conservative, but conservative views get a fair hearing, and the protagonists aren’t necessarily bleeding hearts. That’s not entirely untrue of The Devil’s Workshop either, but I was disappointed to see him fall back on a couple very tired Hollywood tropes. The villains of the book are 1) a U.S. Army general, running a horrific biological weapons program, and 2) a fanatical Christian preacher, of the White Identity sort.

That evil American soldiers are a Hollywood cliché is even truer today than it was in 1999, when this book was first published. And I despise the White Identity Movement as much as (probably more than) any other heresy. But honestly, how many serious terrorist attacks have been carried out by the Aryan types? They’re pretty small potatoes by today’s standards.

It should probably be noted, in Cannell’s defense, though, that he wrote the book before the September 11 attacks.

I should also note that there’s a very sympathetic Christian preacher in the book, an ex-alcoholic who runs a street mission. When he gives his testimony of salvation, it has the ring of truth (something rare in fictional depictions of evangelicals) except for all the dirty words he uses. I think modern writers believe foul language to be some kind of guarantee of integrity.

Because the white supremacist bad preacher concentrates his activities on a private interpretation of the Book of Revelation, Cannell takes the opportunity, at a couple points, to attack the canonicity of Revelation, something that seemed to me uncalled-for.

I’m interested by how often our secular neighbors are frightened by our talk of end times prophecy. A lot of them seem to think that we (like the bad preacher in this book) think we can hasten the Lord’s return by causing huge, bloody disasters (lots of liberals accused George W. Bush of this belief, back before Pres. Obama took over, and the war became good). I’ve never run into a Christian, however I may have disagreed with his eschatology, who ever taught anything like that. It is, I understand, characteristic of certain Muslim sects (though not as many as some think, according to this post at Mahdi Watch by the excellent [Lutheran] blogger Tim Furnish).

These are really relatively mild criticisms. They just loom large for me.

Cautions for language, mild sexual content, and religious confusion. Otherwise pretty highly recommended.

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