Monday, August 1, 2016

Iola Goulton reviews: WHEN DEATH DRAWS NEAR by Carrie Stuart Parks

Iola Goulton reviews When Death Draws Near by Carrie Stuart Parks.

Short Version:

Forensic artist Gwen Marcey is in Pikeville, Kentucky, a long way from her Montana home, working on a serial rapist case with local police. Except something weird is happening: all the victims leave town soon after the crimes, including this latest victim—which makes it impossible for Gwen to interview her and get the sketch she needs to help find the rapist.

But things get stranger when she is asked to help identify a snakebite victim, and she finds herself in the middle of an investigation into a local snake-handling cult, and then finds herself under attack. Things go from bad to worse when her ex sends their teenage daughter into the middle of what is turning out to be a lot more complex—and dangerous—than a straightforward interview and sketch.

My Thoughts:

I found the beginning a bit shaky, with a Prologue that didn’t immediately relate to the novel (I realised when I re-read it to write this review that the Prologue actually takes place twenty years before the start of the novel—this could have been made clearer). We were also thrown right into the middle of the investigation, which helped give the novel a bumpy start. However, that could have been intentional, to mimic Gwen’s own confusion. The other aspect which might be of concern to some readers is that it’s written in first person. I find this added to the suspense, but I know some readers find first person difficult to read.

But apart from those small issues, the novel was excellent—as I’ve come to expect from Carrie Stuart Parks. She has chosen a difficult topic with When Death Draws Near, yet manages to tread the line between different branches of the Christian faith with care and consideration (I would point out that most Pentecostals don’t believe in snake handling or drinking poison. Just because the Bible says we can doesn’t mean we should. Also, while the American Pentecostal movement began in 1906 with the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, there was a corresponding revival in Wales which instigated the British version. In both cases, God chose the maligned minorities—African Americans and Welsh miners—to lead the way).

Her writing is excellent (no surprise—the book is dedicated to “Frank, the master storyteller”, referring to Frank Peretti, her writing coach). The plot is nailbiting, and the characters feel like real people, with all the accompanying faults. I recently read a blog post which described fictional conflict as characters doing what they know is wrong. I won’t give details (as that would be giving spoilers), but that is definitely a feature of When Death Draws Near, and adds to the tension. Is that character the evildoer, or the character he is protecting? Or someone else? The author continues the suspense until almost the last page.
This is the third Gwen Marcey thriller, following A Cry from the Dust and The Bones Will Speak (both of which I have reviewed). However, it can easily be read as a standalone novel as the series elements are more about Gwen’s relationship with her ex-husband (shaky) and her teenage daughter (improving, which gives hope to all of us with teenage daughters).

Recommended for thriller fans, especially those who enjoy TV shows like CSI, or novels by Tim Downs.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Carrie Stuart Parks (herself a well-known forensic artist) and the fascinating story of how she came to be an author at her website:

About Reviewer Iola Goulton:

I am a freelance editor specializing in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on FacebookTwitterPinterest or Tsu .

I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog. I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon US Reviewer Rank that floats around 2500 (and I'm in the Top 50 at Amazon Australia).


  1. I really enjoyed her first two books - I may have heard about them from you, Iola - and I'm looking forward to this one.

    1. If you enjoyed her first two, I'm sure you'll enjoy this one as well. Thanks for stopping by, Suzie.


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