Christian fiction started with the lone title here and there. This actually lasted for decades, until two components of the market came together. Those factors involved writing quality and reader demand.
For an interval, publishers specializing in Christian material, nonfiction included, served much of the market. However, as both demand and quality increased the Christian fiction market also became attractive to mainstream publishers.
Probably the most notable example is Harlequin’s Christian romance line of paperbacks “Love Inspired.” Within this line, Harlequin has at least two subcategories: “Historical” and “Suspense.” At this writing, indeed, the “Love Inspired: Suspense” line appears to enjoy the greatest popularity. On a trip to Walmart at about the time I began this column, I found about eight titles in the line whereas I found only a few in the broader overall “Love Inspired” category. I checked Amazon as of early February and all but one of the titles were still available as new mass market paperbacks (and even that one was available used.) This line represents a kind of coming of age of Christian fiction, so I am going to look at some of these titles for probably a couple of columns.
It’s partly luck of the draw what one reads first when this many choices factor, but I have to say I made an excellent first choice. The faith of both protagonists was breathed naturally into the novel Desperate Escape, by Lisa Harris. But the story in many other ways read like a classic intrigue novel as well. Harris shows her protagonist characters as strong, 3-dimensional presences who struggle through life threatening circumstances.
Unlike some of her predecessors’s work, Harris keeps the suspenseful pressure on: if anything as obstacle after obstacle challenges the protagonists the suspense becomes almost too intense. In the midst of it, Harris skillfully weaves suspense and romance into a smoothly blended piece of fiction.
Expert Witness, by Rachel Dylan, shares elements with Desperate Escape. Both novels involve a female protagonist who needs expert protection and rescue. Yet in both cases, we see some storytelling craft that these authors’s secular counterparts do not always accomplish. In each case, work in a high-level career gives rise to the circumstances that lead to a need for extra protection. Another common component involves the characters combining faith with practical, real-world skills: even extending to self-defense capability in the case of Expert Witness.
Rocky Mountain Pursuit, by Mary Alford, is another page-turner. Per the author profile page, this is only Alford’s second title, but the storyline more resembles the work of a seasoned pro. The exact suspense and intrigue of this novel differ from Desperate Escape and Expert Witness: except that all three revolve around matters we regularly see in news reporting nowadays. (Drug trade in Desperate Escape, influence peddling in Expert Witness, and terrorism and counter-terrorism in Rocky Mountain Pursuit.) Like the two other authors, Alford shows us a world where faith and practical real-world skills fit together as part of an overall lifestyle.
Since building a suspense work requires a higher level storytelling skill set than does simple romance, again, the presence and popularity of this line represents a coming of age in the Christian fiction genre. The robustness of this line should also encourage working writers with the storytelling skills to target the suspense market.