Tag Archives: Alan Lee

‘Only the Details’ and ‘Good Girl,’ by Alan Lee

He stood taller than me, which isn’t easy, and he was much wider, which is silly.

Two more reviews of Alan Lee’s Mack August novels. Then I’m done for a while. There are a couple more books to date, but they’re a side series starring Mack’s US Marshal friend, Manny. I’ll save them for later.

It’s not every man who suddenly finds himself – to his complete surprise – married to the woman of his dreams, who also happens to be filthy rich. But that’s the situation of Roanoke, Virginia private eye Mack August at the beginning of Only the Details. Which makes it a pretty good day.

Right up until a potential client injects him with a soporific, and he finds himself loaded on a jet headed for Naples, Italy. A disgruntled crime lord has put out a contract on Mack, but that contract has been bought up by a different crime lord, who has a use for him. He wants Mack (who used to be an underground cage fighter) to represent his criminal family in an annual international tournament in Naples. Elimination in this tournament means actual elimination, but the winner becomes a hero in the underworld. Except that, as his captor explains, he’s promised to kill Mack when it’s over, regardless of the results.

To Mack August, such setbacks are only obstacles to be overcome. Half of Only the Details involves Mack’s never-say-die conduct during the tournament. The other involves the efforts of his Virginia friends to rescue him. It’s all preposterous fun.

In Good Girl, the next book (and I realize the fact that there is a next book constitutes an unavoidable spoiler), Mack is asked to work for a man who suffers anteretrograde amnesia – the condition where one remembers the past, but can make no new memories. Ulysses Steinbeck survives by keeping copious notes, depending on the assistance of his housekeeper.

Steinbeck lost his memory in a car accident several years back. One memory he has from the very end has to do with a dog he bought – something even he doesn’t understand, because he doesn’t even like dogs. But the dog is important… for some reason. Can Mack find the dog and figure out the secret?

Mack goes to work, acquiring the dog, a mature and well-behaved Boxer. He learns that someone else is looking for the dog too, and some exercise of his fighting skills will be required before the conclusion, which is a highly satisfying one. Author Lee says in a note that he felt that Only the Details was pretty intense, and it was time for a warmer and fuzzier sequel.

I liked both these books a lot, and recommend them, if you can handle the language (see my previous reviews). The author also needs to work on his vocabulary – he generally does pretty well with Robert B. Parker-esque erudite vocabulary, but now and then he stumbles.

Realism is not strong in this series – I’m thinking particularly about Mack’s relationship with his fiancée/wife “Ronnie,” who seems to me more a figure of male fantasy than a plausible character.

But it’s all a lot of fun anyway.

‘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.

‘The Desecration of All Saints,’ by Alan Lee

I am now officially obsessed with Alan Lee’s Mack August mysteries. Expect the reviews to come fast and thick for a few days.

Mack, as I’ve told you previously, is a big, strong Christian private eye in Roanoke, Virginia. He’s not a model evangelical – he drinks a little, and uses bad language now and then. And occasionally he fornicates, though he always resists it and has not consummated his passion for “Ronnie” Summers, the girl he loves. Unfortunately she’s engaged to another man (the marriage was arranged by her father, who happens to be a local drug lord).

Mack knows there will be trouble at the beginning of The Desecration of All Saints, when two vestrymen from the big Episcopal church in town come to hire him. They want him to investigate their pastor, a celebrity preacher named Louis Lindsey. One of his subordinates has complained that Lindsey has been making homosexual advances. They are sure the accusation is groundless, but they want Mack to look into it, just to vindicate their pastor.

As he investigates, Mack discovers that there’s good evidence the accusations are true.

Even worse, a local boy has been kidnapped, and Mack begins to suspect that Lindsey is the one who took him. And is likely to kill him, if he can’t be stopped.

Funny, engaging, and sometimes inspirational, I enjoyed The Desecration of All Saints. The book (which is marketed as a stand-alone, not part of the series, for some obscure reason) has flaws. Part of the fun of Mack’s character is his self-deprecatory humor, often framed in elevated vocabulary. But (in this book more than the others I’ve read) he uses the words wrong occasionally. He also falls victim to homophone confusion. This one needed a better proofreader.

The Desecration of All Saints also deal with a touchy subject – homosexuality. As Mack expresses his views, he’s more easygoing about it than I am, falling into the “we’re all sinners, gayness is no big deal” school. However, he also seems to suggest that lack of father figures is a contributing factor to homosexuality, so he’s not entirely in the “enlightened” camp.

I might also mention that if you like sexy books – as opposed to dirty books – you can hardly look for hotter stuff than the Mack August series. Unlike most fictional private eyes, Mack tries to shun fornication, which means that in the scenes where “Ronnie” comes on to him, the sexual tension is off the charts. There’s nothing so erotic as chastity, and that’s proven here.

Recommended, with cautions for language and subject matter.

‘August Origins,’ by Alan Lee

“It’s reverse sexism to pretend girls are never girls and never experience distress. That creates faulty and impossible standards, like magazine covers.”

Pending surprises, I’m pretty much all in on Alan Lee’s Mack August detective series now. And for some of you, that will be a sign of reprobation in me. Because these novels have Christian themes, but they are morally complex and there’s a limited amount of full-blown profanity and obscenity. I don’t think I’d have the nerve to write books like these. But I’m enjoying and appreciating them.

Mackenzie August is a private eye in Roanoke, Virginia. He’s a former cop and underground cage fighter, also a former youth pastor and English teacher. He goes to church and reads the Bible, but is a work in progress, wrestling with how to be a Christian.

In August Origins, the county sheriff comes to Mack’s office, along with a local policeman, to request his help. A new drug boss has moved into town, and the street gangs have adopted a practice imported from California – each new member must “make his bones” by killing an innocent teenaged girl. Three have died so far. They want Mack to go to work temporarily as a high school teacher, to try to figure out who’s running the gangs.

Mack is always up for a challenge. He likes teaching and is good at it. He cares about the kids and tries to help them. But he observes some hinky stuff going on – and then the word spreads among the student population that Mr. August is a nark. His life and those of some of his students will depend on his identifying the drug bosses, and putting a stop to them.

Also he meets a girl who fascinates him – Veronica “Ronnie” Summers, local lawyer and part-time bartender. She’s all he’s ever wanted, but if he wants to be with her, he’ll have to make a moral compromise he’s not willing to make.

There are some shocking elements in August Origins, and the resolution is not very neat at all. But the effect is more realistic than what you’ll generally find in Christian fiction, and that particular story line is not finished yet.

Not for the squeamish, or those offended by profanity. But I rate August Origins very highly.

‘The Last Teacher,’ by Alan Lee

“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.