The bar just went up again.  LDS suspense writers are consistently outdoing each other with each new release.  Each book’s action is becoming faster and the plot more spell-binding.  Along with more gripping tales, we are seeing stronger credentials behind the stories.  New author Karl Goodman has stepped into the fray with Unknown Enemy.

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enemyGoodman’s military experience adds to his credentials as a suspense writer, but his real strength comes from first-hand experience living in Mexico and Central America.  Having served LDS missions and traveled extensively in those areas, he brings a detailed knowledge of the region to his writing.

Unknown Enemy stars John Tanner, born in Mexico, raised partly in Utah.  He’s a BYU graduate with a degree in animal husbandry and a trained CIA operative sent to Nicaragua to learn more about an insurgent group known as El Cinco.  Using his training and background in ranching as a cover, he arrives in the area where the insurgents are known to operate and takes a position with a large cattle rancher, ostensibly to improve the rancher’s cattle herd. He quickly meets Katia Solano, the beautiful daughter of a neighboring rancher.

Katia is more than a beautiful woman and John quickly becomes convinced she is Dama Mariposa – one of the reputed leaders of El Cinco. 

Conflicts abound as John becomes involved in El Cinco’s activities, including hijacking weapons shipments before they can reach Contra or Sandinista groups, trying to prove to his superiors that El Cinco is not communist, and protecting first Katia, then himself from assassination orders that come from his own government.  One of his greatest conflicts is between his religious faith and the things he must do and say to complete his assignment and protect innocent lives.  Caught in a violent conflict, John struggles to discover who he can trust and who is dangerous to him, to Katia, and to his country’s interests.

John falls in love with Katia quickly and suspects she returns his feelings, though she makes it clear her country comes first – certainly before her own personal happiness.  John too is torn by conflicting feelings concerning his love for Katia.  She is not a member of the Church and appears to have little interest in God or religious matters.  These feelings extend to his employment as it becomes clear to him that as long as he works for the CIA, he will have little opportunity to attend Church or marry and raise a family in a normal LDS home.

Unknown Enemy is told primarily from John Tanner’s point of view, but there are random scenes told from a different point of view that are a little jarring and in a few instances there is more telling than showing.  Also in some scenes, John seems to know more about a situation, such as the first raid on a gun shipment, than is explained by previous scenes.  There never is a satisfactory explanation for the arrival of a former girlfriend, other than to set up jealousy as a motive for Katia acting out of character and several points in the conclusion could be both clarified better and set up to provide John a stronger hope of achieving his spiritual goals, but overall this is an excellent novel that will keep suspense fans reading far into the night. 

The elements of danger, betrayal, and risk taking are superbly done.  The setting is incorporated into the action in a way that becomes believable rather than overpowering the story, as too often happens when setting a novel in an unusual or exotic setting.  There’s just enough use of Spanish terms to give the book flavor, but it doesn’t bog down the story with terminology that is incomprehensible to non-Spanish speaking readers.  In this time when terrorism, the Middle East, and science fiction-like technology seem to dominate the suspense genre, Unknown Enemy is a powerful reminder that gun running, powerful special interests, and South American style communism are still important elements in mankind’s quest for freedom.

This is an author I hope we’ll hear from many times in the future.

Published by Covenant Communications, 343 pages, $15.95