Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

Dodson Shows Potential in Daniel's Den

  • Annabelle Robertson Contributing Writer
  • 2009 12 Mar
Dodson Shows Potential in <i>Daniel's Den</i>

Author:  Brandt Dodson
Title:  Daniel’s Den
Publisher:  Harvest House Publishers

Daniel Borden lives a simple but comfortable life.  He gets up, goes for morning runs with his dog Elvis then heads to work at Capshaw-Crane, where he’s a successful stock analyst.  He lives in an expensive house in post-Katrina New Orleans.  He drives a nice car.  And he’s happy—sort of.  Daniel used to have a girlfriend.  They were going to be married.  But then she called it off.  Now, Daniel is back to his daily routines.

When his colleague dies under mysterious circumstances, Daniel is asked to handle the standard audit of the colleague’s files.  A few discrepancies lead to some questions—and two deaths.  Are they linked?  Before Daniel knows what has happened, he’s been framed for the murders.  Sensing that the only way he can ever prove his innocence is to follow the money trail, he takes off.  The law—and the real criminals—take off after him.

A recent widow, Laura lives in rural Virginia with her son, Andy.  She’s just opened her first bed-and-breakfast—the one she and her husband had always dreamed of.  Now, Laura is looking forward to bringing in some money to pay for all the bills they’ve racked up.  After being rudely approached by a would-be buyer, however, she grows skittish—even more so than usual.  Then Daniel shows up at the inn and turns her life completely upside down.  Before long, they’re on the run together.  But toward what?

This is the first thriller written by Brandt Dodson, a mystery writer and author of the Colton Parker, P.I. series.  A committed believer who lives in Indianapolis with his wife and two sons, Dodson states on his Web site that he hopes to convey a Christian message through his writing.  He accomplishes this in Daniel’s Den, without being preachy and without distracting from the story, either.  By the end of the book, Daniel finds God.  Laura, a nominal believer, discovers a deepened faith in the Lord.  Both plot developments are credible and well handled.

A former law enforcement officer turned podiatrist, Dodson has managed to inject interesting technical details into his novel, such as information about computer and telephone hacking, and surveillance techniques. Another strength is his characterization.  Like mysteries, thrillers are often plagued by one-dimensional characters, but Dodson gives everyone—including the most minor characters—a detailed past, or back story, as authors call it.  This makes his characters much more realistic.  The irony is that this strength also becomes Dodson’s fatal flaw. 

He has very strong descriptive skills, but he employs them too frequently, with far too much detail and sometimes, in the wrong place.  This affects the novel’s pacing tremendously.  Descriptive back story is like seasoning.  It’s meant to be sprinkled throughout a novel—not dropped in heaps.  Unfortunately, Dodson serves up loads of background information on each character the minute they get onstage.  This brings the narrative to a screeching halt, again and again.  Even literary novels can’t afford this novice mistake, but it’s a death knell for a thriller.

Also, readers don’t need (or want) to know that many details about minor characters.  When it comes to fast-paced reading in particular, sometimes characters just need to come onstage and do their thing.  Generally speaking, authors need to be very judicious with details.  We don’t need to know what everything looks like, in every scene, for example.  It can also constitute point-of-view violations—especially in a novel written in the omniscient point-of-view, as this one is.

For example, readers should only “see” what each character sees, when he’s onstage.  They should also see it the same way that that particular character would see it.  Someone jogging around his own neighborhood, for example, might notice the sun creeping up over the horizon or the neighbor’s barking dog—if he’s the kind of guy that tunes into the world around him.  He would not, however, notice every tree, shrub and house, as Dodson’s characters do.  And sometimes, he might not notice anything at all, particularly if he’s thinking about something else.  But all of Dodson’s characters notice everything around them, down to the most annoying detail.

Also, Dodson gives his characters quirks, which is great, but he’s so fond of them that he tends to hammer them home.  A criminal with a tendency to repeat a cohort’s words does it over and over.  A character who likes to chow down on a certain snack refers to that snack a half dozen times in the same scene.  These incidents all serve to slow down the narrative.

Other issues stem from editing.  “Some of the investment advisors at Capshaw-Crane preferred laptops for their portability,” Dodson writes, in one of numerous redundant phrases, “choosing to transport them to the office each morning and plugging them into their docking stations before beginning each day.” The second half of that sentence merely serves to define “laptop” and should have been deleted.

Dodson is a skilled writer, with a tremendous amount of potential.  Hopefully, as he continues to publish and practice his craft, we’ll see less of these mistakes.  Or, he’ll acquire a stronger editor.  As is, Daniel’s Den is like a loaf of bread taken out of the oven just a bit too soon.  It’s edible, but more time would have made it really tasty.

**This review published on March 12, 2009.