Book Review: Frantic by Mike Dellosso

Every year for five years now, Mike Dellosso has delivered a treat for us readers of suspense. I’ve been following Mike from the beginning and have always been astounded by his pace, his exemplary work ethic, and his consistent quality. He works a full-time job and juggles family life too. I know what goes into writing these types of novels, and the task is no small feat, especially in a market that is tough to break into and draw enough sales to keep a publisher happy. God has gifted Mike in an amazing way and opened doors for him to keep producing and reaching readers. Congratulations, Mike!

Frantic is another quality addition to his ever-growing collection. With this offering, I felt that Mike ventured into some new territory by delivering a more literary flavor. He spent more time developing his characters (Marny’s sense that he’s “cursed”) and their backstories. The result made the motivations deeper and the characters the true drivers of the plot. He masterfully wove in backstory via flashbacks to give the present story even more urgency and importance.

This adventure/suspense/fantasy novel begins when gas station attendant and unlikely hero Marny Toogood finds an urgent message from a woman in a car. She says the man driving the vehicle is going to kill her. Marny does the right thing and follows the car to an old house deep in the woods. After a daring rescue, Marny, Esther (the woman), and her gifted brother, William, find themselves on the run from Gary, a driven and twisted character who will overcome any obstacle—and kill anyone standing in his way—to get William back. William has mysterious supernatural powers, and Gary considers himself the boy’s divinely appointed protector. In his eyes, Marny is the bad guy. But Marny is just an average, insecure guy who wants to do the right thing.

What follows is a cat-and-mouse trek—and Gary’s killing spree—that takes the trio to several unexpected destinations and puts them square in the middle of multiple nail-biting escapes. As in several of his other novels, Mike likes to use the innocence of children to make evil seem even darker when contrasted against the innocence and light of childhood and faith. In this case, we find a child, William, with a unique gift of faith. He can start a fire, for example, when matches don’t work. I especially liked how his supernatural gift couldn’t be manipulated whenever the characters were in trouble. God decided when the gift would be most useful. Isn’t that so much like life according to God’s leading? God always pulls through when we’re desperate for help, but we can’t manipulate Him when we want a quick fix. And William isn’t there just to pull the rabbit out of the hat at just the right time.

I know Mike likes to write without an outline, and I think that technique really shines for a novel like this one. I couldn’t predict where their journey would take them next (maybe he couldn’t either), so the twists and turns kept me on my toes. As in a few of his other novels, the body count is high, but the violence is tastefully restrained—a quality I really appreciate. And there’s no bad language or crude references in a market that seems to be getting “edgier” all the time—again, thank you, Mike. About halfway through the novel, when I thought I had the story’s direction figured out, a big plot twist about knocked me off my chair. What we think is a cat-and-mouse hunt is really so much more.

In the end this was a fun and highly suspenseful read that kept the pages turning. I’ve always enjoyed tales of good guys on the run from bad guys, so this plot resonated with me right from the opening pages. The plot was engaging with just enough thrills to  create a nice pace and just enough chills to provide the right tone of creepiness without stepping into gratuitous violence and outright horror. The story touches on some nice spiritual themes as well. Some folks call Mike’s novels Christian horror. I personally think of them as creepy suspense. This is definitely one worth reading.

Note: Special thanks to the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and Realms Publishing for a review copy.

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