I just finished up Terri Blackstock’s new book, Shadow in Serenity, a novel published by Zondervan this October (2011). This New York Times Bestselling author certainly didn’t disappoint in this stand-alone novel. The characters were believable, easy to friend, and well-crafted. The book was an amazing tale of redemption and God’s miraculous love, fit eloquently amid her story set in a small town where a scheme from a man who grew up a con-artist put the town in financial and emotional jeopardy.
Carny, a strong independent woman and mother with a tempered impulsive streak, comes from a less than desirable “carnival” background (hence, the name) and knows something about con-artists. Fleeing her parents and their lying lifestyle, she settles in a small town full of caring, God-fearing people and she finally feels at home.
When a good-looking, smooth talking drifter, Logan, wanders into town promising something so amazing no one wants to be left out, she is speculative of his motives. Yet, she feels a strange attraction to him also. Will she be able to show everyone else that his motives aren’t pure? Is her instinct right?
Terri Blackstock is an author of Christian suspense novels (usually packaged in a series) that have rougher life and death themes,while Shadow of Serenity is a lighter and brighter book, as well as inspiring. It’s wonderfully airy in its drama and can be read in a day or two. The story is told so well that it flows smoothly through your mind and you’ll be done in no time, yet the characters will be etched on your heart.
Though it carries an important warning for readers as to the influx of cons floating around these days, and how Christian people with big hearts can fall prey, it also shows how some people who delve into this criminal activity can be restored in the Lord.
It’s a romance without the steamy scenes. I actually prefer romances that give you more subtle hints as to the characters possibly opening their heart to one another. Being able as a reader to watch the characters slowly fall in love creates more suspense and this book certainly unfolds a relationship that is charming and captivating. I don’t need all the explicit sex scenes for me to find the romance endearing. Terri does a wonderful job of juxtaposing suspense, drama, and romance.
The suspense in her book and the emotions emitted from both Carny and Logan’s characters was at a pace just slow enough, or quick enough, to make you want to keep reading to find out if redemption was possible for Logan. You’ll want to know if love is enough to win out over the power of temptation. The book has a Christian message of how the least of us can be redeemed through the love of Christ, which sometimes can come from the love of another Christian, or a group of Christians. However, the book was not preachy or scripture focused. It was about how other Christians, with pure hearts, can help to quietly lead a person without faith into the light of God’s goodness with their consistent faith and love.
To learn more about the book, please keep reading below for an interview with Terri. I think you’ll be enlightened!
Read an Excerpt of the Book
You can read an excerpt here: http://www.terriblackstock.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/ShadowinSerenitySC.pdf
Q & A with Terri Blackstock
A: I actually wrote this book about seventeen years ago for the secular market. HarperCollins published the original version (under a different title), and it was the last book I wrote in that market before switching to Christian suspense. It’s always been one of my favorites because I
loved the colorful characters in the book, and I thought the story so illustrated redemption. When I got the rights back, Zondervan agreed to publish it again. I did an extensive rewrite on it, because I’ve grown so much as a writer and a Christian since that first version.
My latest series, the Intervention Series, is about some heavy topics that are very personal to me. I felt a passion to write the books in that series, but it was like opening a vein, since I was dealing with issues straight out of my own family. Before I wrote the last book in that series (Downfall, which will be out in March of 2012), I needed a break from that. It was fun to work on this book, because it’s full of humor and is more uplifting. It was a good way to clean my palate before going back to a more serious topic. Shadow in Serenity has more romance than most of my books, and the suspense element isn’t quite as life-or-death as my other books.
Q: You’ve said that Shadow in Serenity is about a “loveable con artist.” Are you glorifying crime in this book?
A: Absolutely not, but when you’re telling a story about redemption, you have to show the “before” picture, otherwise there’s no real story. In Shadow in Serenity, Logan Brisco comes to the town of Serenity, Texas to con the people out of their life savings. But one of the citizens, a motorcycle-riding widowed mom, stands in his way. Carny Sullivan knows a con artist when she sees one, because she was raised to be one. She grew up in the carnival and was taught to pick
pockets and create diversions for her parents’ scams. But when she found Christ in this small town, and learned of His love through the people who loved her, everything in her life changed.
There’s no way she’s going to let Brisco hurt the people she loves. But Brisco is not just a criminal. His background was sad and lonely, and the only one in his life who ever invested time in him was a con artist. He learned everything he knows from his mentor who’s now dead. Though he’s served time in prison for his crimes and made an effort to clean up his life, he couldn’t do it on his own. Finally defaulting back to his life as a fraud, he concocts this elaborate scheme to get rich. But he never expected to find such love and acceptance in this town, and he never expected to fall in love with a spitfire who sees right through him.
Q: Did you model your con artist, Logan Brisco, after anyone?
A: Years ago I read the book Catch Me If You Can, by Frank Abagnale, and that was what inspired me to write about a con artist. Frank was a con artist for years, and the things he did were creative and amazing. But eventually he got caught and served several years in prison. When he got out, he went to work for the FBI, helping them learn how to crack fraud cases. The book was later turned into a movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and it’s now a Broadway play. I didn’t model the character exactly after Abagnale, but his life story was a good launching point for what I wanted to do.
Q: What about Carny Sullivan? She grew up in traveling carnivals, and was bred to be a
con artist, herself. How did you learn so much about the carnival life-style?
A: Amazingly, there are several good books out there written by carnies about that lifestyle. I used those books for research, I learned the language of the carnival lifestyle, and the inner workings of state fairs and the people who work them. It gave me a good back story for Carny Sullivan. I just pictured this little lonely girl who grew up with the smell of cotton candy and the thrill of roller coasters, but all she ever really wanted was a real home and a normal family.
Q: Shadow in Serenity had echoes of the old musical, Music Man, except Carny is nothing like Marian the Librarian. Did you mean to make that connection?
A: Yes, that connection was deliberate, though Shadow in Serenity is a contemporary story. When I was a junior in high school, I was in the musical Music Man. As I was working on these characters, I began to notice the similarities, so I embraced that, then tried to put my own twist on the story. Carny is a thrill-seeker, nothing like the librarian in the musical. But she loves the home she’s made with her son, and the stability that she’s wanted all her life. That contradiction–being a thrill-seeker yet loving stability, makes her a much more complex character than Marian the Librarian.
Q: Logan Brisco kind of traps himself into a corner in this book. On one hand he’s succeeding at what he came to do (to rob the town blind), but on the other hand, he’s found something in the town of Serenity that he’s longed for all his life.
A: I love characters who long for something, but don’t realize it. The reader, when they discover Brisco’s background, will realize what the void in Brisco is, and how desperately he needs to fill it. But Brisco doesn’t realize that until he comes to Serenity. Always before, he’s swept into a town, set up his scam, collected as much money as he could squeeze out of his victims, then disappeared. But this time he falls in love with the town. But once he realizes that living here can fulfill the dreams he didn’t even know he had, it’s too late. He’s already started his scam, and he’s in way too deep.
Q: Carny’s background in the carnival has made her something of a thrill-seeker, yet Christianity has settled her down. Was it hard to find that balance in the character that allowed her to be a Christian, yet still fulfill her craving for excitement?
A: It wasn’t really, because I saw her so vividly in my mind. I thought that someone who grew up moving every couple of weeks and riding roller coasters every single day, might actually be addicted to those adrenaline rushes. What if she found the stability she longed for? Would she stop craving that excitement? No, she’d simply find ways to satisfy that without losing that important stability. So Carny becomes a pilot and rides a motorcycle and bungee jumps, but she has that secure home base where she’s built a wonderful life for her little boy.
Q: Jason, Carny’s eight-year-old son, believes in Brisco no matter what his mother says. How does that trust influence Brisco?
A: Brisco’s always cultivated trust in his victims, but there’s something about little Jason’s trust that makes him want to be a better person. He begins to realize that, after his scam is done and he skips town with the money, Jason won’t be so innocent anymore. He’ll be crushed. He likes the idea that this little boy looks up to him and wants to be like him. And as Brisco falls for Carny, Jason’s mom, he doesn’t want Carny to hurt, either.
Q: Do you think there’s a prevalence of these kinds of white-collar crimes in the world today?
A: It’s worse today than ever before. Technology has made it so easy to be a criminal these days. Identity theft is huge, but so are hoaxes and scams across the internet. How many times have you gotten that email, supposedly from someone you know, that says they’re in some foreign country and their wallet was stolen, and they need you to wire them money immediately? If I didn’t know that was a hoax, I’d probably have fallen for that one at least once. Lots of people do.
There are people in this world who don’t care who they hurt in order to make a buck, and I think it helps for readers to see how con artists think, so they can protect themselves from these scams. But it’s also important to remember that those people can be redeemed, too. Christ died for the ungodly, for those who need a savior.
Q: What are some signs that readers can familiarize themselves with, to keep them from being conned? Are there other common tricks that scam artists use to trick their victims into giving them money?
A: Well, we’ve all been lured with the Nigerian scam, where someone emails you and says that they’ve inherited millions of dollars if they can just get it out of the country, and if you help them move that money, they’ll give you a couple hundred thousand as a commission. Believe it or not, tons of people fall for that scam. Social networking has also provided lots of new venues for criminals. There’s so much opportunity for identity theft in social networking, because people are way too trusting and too free with their information. I wrote about that in more depth in my book Predator.
Q: Your books often have valuable lessons woven into the plots. Predator warned of the dangers of social networking, Intervention dealt with the problems facing families of drug addicts. Shadow in Serenity highlights these scams that trap naive victims. Do you set out to teach a lesson when you write a book?
A: I really don’t. I start with the plot, and usually the Christian theme emerges when God deals with me in some way during that time. I usually think that God wants me to pass that lesson along to my readers, so that message becomes intertwined with the plot. The Intervention Series was a little different, because in that series I really wanted to show the impact that drug addiction has on families, and I knew that from the beginning. But I was extremely passionate about that subject because of how addiction had hurt my family. And that became a therapeutic way for me to work through what we’d been through, and give hope to other families.
Q: What do you hope will linger with readers after they’ve finished Shadow in Serenity?
A: That no matter what they’ve done, no matter how dark their past is, they can be redeemed. Some of the greatest people in the Bible committed heinous crimes. David and Paul were both murderers. Even worse, Paul murdered Christians. And David murdered the husband of his mistress, because she was pregnant with his child. In 1 Corinthians 6, we’re told who will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, but then it says, “Such were some of you. But you were washed clean …” I love that. He’s talking to the redeemed, people who were once criminals and sinners, but they didn’t have to stay that way.
Q: What books can we look forward to after this one?
A: In March, the third book in the Intervention Series will release. It’s called Downfall, and it’s the last book in that series. Both of the previous books, Intervention and Vicious Cycle, were New York Times best-sellers, so hopefully readers will be looking for this book. Right now, I’m working on a new series, but I don’t have a title yet. I’m also collaborating on a novel with my long-time editor David Lambert, which I hope will be out in the fall of 2012.
If you want to check out the book trailer promo for Shadow of Serenity on YouTube: http://youtu.be/1ulTDVZrcLE
I was happy to be asked by the author of this book to write a review in exchange for a copy of the book. However, all the opinions expressed are my own.