Suspense is a favorite genre of many readers, including LDS readers. Two LDS authors have produced compelling suspense novels that may take readers by surprise. The first, Extreme Measures by Michele Ashman Bell will first take her fans by surprise because it is suspense when she is a well-known favorite romance and women’s issues author. Readers who don’t usually read her books will like this one too. I’ll admit I loved this genre switch and consider this possibly her best work. The creepy, psychological twists border on horror. The second unusual suspense novel is Stranded by Nathan Huffaker. It is definitely unusual to find missionaries caught up in a suspenseful drama filled with terrorists, explosions, and a race for survival. Remaining committed to their callings as missionaries becomes as great a challenge as staying alive.
Extreme Measures by Michele Ashman Bell
Emma Lowell is engaged to the man of her dreams. This won’t be her first marriage, but it will be her first with a man who shares her dreams, her faith, and her values. Her first marriage was a disaster as shortly after their marriage, she learned of his multiple affairs. That first marriage, too, was plagued by a mother-in-law who didn’t like her and found fault with everything about her. After a yearlong separation, her husband drowned in a questionable bathtub incident in a motel room with another woman.
After her husband’s death, Emma’s mother-in-law, Margaret, a wealthy widow, moved into a senior center and began calling Emma every day, sometimes multiple times. Feeling sympathetic for the woman’s loss, Emma visits her frequently. On the day her fiancé leaves for an overseas business trip, the older woman insists Emma visit her. When she arrives Margaret tricks Emma into taking her to the family’s mountain cabin as a storm approaches. At the snow-bound cabin, Emma learns her mother-in-law is not the unpleasant, frail, wheelchair bound woman she pretended to be, but is sinister and insane with a terrifying plan centered on Emma.
The characters in this novel are convincing and realistic. Emma is a little too nice, but she grows with the story. Margaret, the mother-in-law is a superbly drawn character. The unfolding of a carefully plotted story holds the reader spellbound. The subtle twists and turns display the devious workings of a narcissistic, psychotic mind. The minor characters are not as detailed, but are distinct individuals. There are a few questions left unanswered in the end, though none are essential to the main story. Overall, in my opinion, this is one of the top LDS fiction novels to come out so far this year.
Michele Ashman Bell grew up in St. George, Utah, attended Dixie College, and served a mission in Germany. She and her husband are the parents of four children and so far they have two grandchildren. She is a physical fitness and Zumba instructor in addition to currently teaching the seven and eight year olds in her ward. She has traveled extensively throughout the United States and in foreign countries.
Stranded by Nathan Huffaker
A mission president receives a call from the President of the Church telling him to get all of the missionaries out of the Russian satellite country where he is assigned. A frantic effort begins to contact all of the missionaries and arrange transportation. Two missionaries, Elder Schofield and Elder Johnson, have a problem when they realize the teller at the train station failed to return Elder Johnson’s passport when they picked up their tickets. They jump from the train and hurry to retrieve the needed document. There’s a sudden eruption behind them and the train explodes in a ball of fire.
The missionaries are shaken, but realize it is imperative they get to the capital as quickly as possible to leave the country with the other missionaries. Two groups make their escape a dangerous game of wits and survival. One group is the police and military who see security video of the two missionaries running from the train and conclude they set the bomb. The other is the real perpetrators who suspect the missionaries can identify them.
It would be easy to assume this novel would be similar to Sarajevo, but it isn’t. It’s a well-plotted suspense novel most suspense or adventure readers will enjoy. There are a few Russian words and phrases used, but they don’t overwhelm or slow down the story. The characters are multi-dimensional and we see the missionaries as both representatives of the Church and as twenty-year-old Americans in a foreign country. It’s sometimes hard to be sure whether to admire Elder Johnson for his positive gung ho attitude or be a little annoyed with his over-the-top missionary zeal. We also see the other characters both in terms of their positions, their nationality, and as warm, real people. The background information is worked in well and enriches the reality of the story.
Nathan Huffaker is a native of Springville, Utah. He served a mission to Kiev, Ukraine. He is a recent graduate of Utah Valley University and resides in Utah with his wife and five children.
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EXTREME MEASURES by Michele Ashman Bell, published by Covenant Communications, 181 pages, soft cover$14.99, also available for e-readers.
STRANDED by Nathan Huffaker, published by Bonneville Books, an imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc., 272 pages, soft cover $17.99 Also available for e-readers.