Death has always been part of Gwen Marcey’s job. But when faced with her own mortality, everything takes on a different hue.
Forensic artist Gwen Marcey is between jobs and homes when she accepts temporary work in Pikeville, Kentucky. The Eastern Kentucky town, located deep in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, has been plagued by a serial rapist and a series of unexplained deaths. Before Gwen can develop a composite drawing, the latest witness vanishes, just like all the previous victims.
Turning her attention to sketching the face of an unidentified body, she discovers a link between his death and a Pentecostal serpent-handling church. Serpent-handling is illegal in Kentucky, and the churches have gone underground to avoid the authorities and continue to worship as they believe. Gwen is offered a handsome reward to infiltrate the renegade members, a reward she desperately needs as it seems her breast cancer has returned.
Joined by her digitally-obsessed, Generation Z daughter, Gwen goes undercover to a nineteenth century revival, planning to draw the faces of the snake handlers so they can be identified and arrested. Instead she uncovers a murderous plot and a festering evil.
SERIES: Gwen Marcy #3
PUBLISHER: Thomas Nelson
RELEASE DATE: August 2, 2016
I’m going to start this review with a sentence I never thought I’d have occasion to say.
If you enjoy Cynthia Ruchti’s books, you’ll enjoy this thriller by Carrie Stuart Parks.
I see your raised eyebrows. “But Carrie,” I hear you saying, “Cynthia Ruchti doesn’t write suspense novels.“(Though Lucy from her latest book Song of Silence may argue that point with you a bit.)
Let me explain. One of the main reasons (out of several) that I consider Cynthia Ruchti one of my favorite authors is the voice she gives to her characters’ inner dialogue. It speaks my sense of humor and makes me laugh even when I’ve already gone through a pack and a half of tissues on a particular book.
Carrie Stuart Parks give that same kind of almost-snarky, very relatable voice to Gwen Marcey’s inner dialogue, and I love it! Gwen herself as a character is authentic and honest – she’s human. She gets angry at God. She gets angry at her ex-husband. She has a typical mother-daughter relationship with her teenager, and she has a best friend who is the perfect Ethel to her Lucy. (Or it might be the other way around.) She loves her dog. She loves her career but she’s struggling to make ends meet. She’s scared of spiders and other bugs. And she’s a cancer survivor who relates the effects of chemo and a double mastectomy with frankness and likability. She’s funny and sincere and really really smart and gutsy, and she’s exactly the type of character I would love to have as a friend.
So Gwen is fantastic as a recurring main character in the series (you can certainly read When Death Draws Near as a stand alone but I’ve just caught up on all three and you will appreciate Gwen more if you read them from the beginning) … but what about the suspense? Because a good thriller must be suspenseful – even a little scary.
Once again, Carrie Stuart Parks passes this test with flying colors! My. Goodness. Do not plan on sleeping while you’re reading When Death Draws Near – or perhaps for a bit after you’ve finished lol. All three of her books start out intense and really stay that way until the end, with brief lulls for research (which I usually find even more fascinating… because I’m geeky that way), but the scary sometimes sneaks up on you. And while in every single book in this series so far I’ve been so confident that I had it solved before Gwen, I had to eat my theories when Parks’ masterful plotting threw me a curveball. I went from “C’mon. It’s SO obvious.” to “Well. I didn’t see that one coming.” and smiling sheepishly (and hypothetically) at the person who would have been swiftly jailed had I been the one solving these crimes.
Each Gwen Marcey book has spotlighted forensic artistry, something in which Parks clearly adds her own career expertise to the mix. I found this absolutely fascinating – particularly the psychological elements that are involved. (I really feel like I should have gone into profiling. Ok. Probably not. But I love reading about it lol) In fact, I may re-read each book and take notes on the deception tells and then apply them to our current political candidates… but that likely wouldn’t tell me anything I don’t already know 😉
I also love the focus of each book and how well Parks has handled potentially sensitive topics. In A Cry From The Dust, Gwen stumbles onto an extremist offshoot of the LDS. In The Bones Will Speak, she runs awry of a neo-Nazi group. And in When Death Draws Near, she finds herself in the middle of snake handlers. I think just the natural intensity that goes along with any of these groups automatically ratchets up the tension in the book itself, and this gives added depth to the suspense. And while Parks does zero in on the extremists, she really focuses more on the warped evil committing crimes in their name and doesn’t pass judgment on the religions from where they originated. In other words, your suspense novel will not be interrupted for a political speech lol. (Amen.)
And of course the glimpses of my beloved Lexington made me smile – and crave a piece of derby pie!! Though… I did have to chuckle at the “crowds” welcoming loved ones at the airport. The largest crowd I’ve ever seen waiting at Lexington’s airport has been around a half dozen 😉
Bottom Line: Gwen Marcey should be every criminal’s worst nightmare even though she typically wields a pencil and her brain instead of a gun. And Carrie Stuart Parks should be on every suspense-fan’s must-read list! High-intensity, edge-of-your-seat thrilling action and psychology. Compelling characters. Moments that make you laugh. Moments that make you look over your shoulder. Moments that make you wonder if it’s ok to pray for a fictional character. All of these elements combine into a fast-paced book that will grip you by the heart AND the mind and refuse to let go until you’ve reached the end. All three books in the series are fantastic, but this one may be my favorite.
(I received a copy of this book in exchange for only my honest review.)
My Rating: 5 stars / Excellent!
Purchase a copy: http://bit.ly/2auSB8Y
See what others are saying: Litfuse
Carrie Stuart Parks is a Christy finalist as well as a Carol award-winning author. She has won numerous awards for her fine art as well. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband, Rick, across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.
Other Books in this Series
Join Carrie in celebrating the release of When Death Draws Near by entering to win an Undercover Artist Starter Set.
One grand prize winner will receive:
- A copy of When Death Draws Near
- A $30 Michael’s or Hobby Lobby gift card (winner’s choice)
- Colored pencils
- A sharpener
- A pencil case
- An eraser
- A coloring prayer book
- A coloring notecard set
- A lap desk
Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on August 22. The winner will be announced August 23 on the Litfuse blog.