Thriller Pits Islamic Holy Jihad Against Christian Freedom

Randall Murphree

Title:  "By the Sword"
Author:  Mike Yorkey and Rick Myatt
Publisher:  Broadman & Holman 

The arresting cover art looks you in the eye and beckons you inside. The jolting murder spree holds you captive through the first chapter. Then it's too late to turn back. You have to read on.

"By the Sword" (Broadman & Holman, 2006) is the first fiction work by authors Mike Yorkey and Rick Myatt, but they demonstrate a masterful command of what makes a good story. Yorkey and Myatt (Yorkey's pastor) began working on their novel in early 2000, yet the action-packed thriller is eerily reminiscent of headline news beginning with September 11, 2001.

Protagonist Amber Robbins is an American investigative reporter for the Washington National. She is stationed in Jerusalem, and through her eyes the realities of persecution, murder, jihad and political intrigue evoke the kind of impact more often experienced through the visual arts -- film or a stage drama. Yorkey and Myatt use dialogue extensively and effectively to propel the story and create that sense of live-action drama.

On her routine morning run through familiar Jerusalem streets, Amber is abruptly accosted by a police officer commanding her to halt and aiming an M-16 assault rifle at her face. Once her identity is established, the officer tells her they have "an incident" in the neighborhood. Amber, of course, goes immediately into reporter mode. Her nose for the news brings her into great danger again and again throughout the fast-paced story.

The stomach-turning murder depicted in chapter one provides a compelling context one won't easily forget. Still, for the queasy, it should be noted that the unsettling scene is the novel's most extreme use of violence. In fact, blending a female star with a militaristic, jihadist setting gives "By the Sword" a likely hook for readers of both genders. At the same time, the themes of Christian persecution and Islamic terrorists bring a relevant focus on our world's current cultural climate.

Yorkey's name may well be familiar for his 11 years as editor of Focus on the Family magazine and his co-writing in the "Every Man's Battle" series. After 55 non-fiction books, he relished the challenge of writing fiction.

In an exclusive interview, Yorkey said he welcomed the change because he loves to tell a good story. "Fiction offers a lot more excitement and a lot more space to develop a story," he said. "For instance, instead of just saying something like, 'There are Christians in the Middle East who are being martyred for their faith,' I can show readers what they look like by developing characters like Davood and Mrna."

In "By the Sword," Davood pastors an underground church. He and his wife Mrna live daily in fear of discovery because others in their little church have been arrested and executed.

Among the novel's Christian martyrs and its strong heroine, of course, a villain runs rampant as well. The embodiment of evil, he is an Iranian secret police agent nicknamed "The Hammer." He becomes obsessed with his top goal -- to silence Amber Robbins in any way possible.

Yorkey and Myatt had completed about 75 percent of the novel before 9/11, but Yorkey said the New York Trade Tower tragedy prompted almost no change in the direction or the climax of their story.

"We thought we had a fairly outlandish plot until that pair of passenger jets toppled the Twin Towers," said Yorkey. "We quickly finished the manuscript, but soon learned that publishers were skittish about releasing a novel that touched so close to current events."

It was four years later before a publisher finally accepted the manuscript. It's about time. "By the Sword" is the epitome of a classic page-turning, mind-bending, heart-rending suspense thriller.

© 2006 AgapePress.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.