This book was my first encounter with Robert Liparulo – a celebrated writer of Christian suspense novels in the vein of Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti. When I saw this title was being offered for advance review, I was certainly excited…I even stayed up late to reserve a copy. With an intriguing premise – what if God punished the Israelites who worshiped Aaron’s golden calf by “gifting” them with immortality? – I was curious to see what direction the book would go.
It’s not altogether terrible, but it’s certainly not great.
Tough-as-nails warrior Jagger Baird, still trying to cope with the car accident that killed his best friend, is working as head of security for an archaeological expedition on the Sinai Peninsula. Soon, however, he and his family run up against the Tribe – a group of immortal vigilantes bent on securing God’s favor by purging the world of “sinners.” Armed with stolen UAV codes, the Tribe plans to unleash divine vengeance against those who have embraced vice.
Aside from the high-concept premise, “The 13th Tribe” is really a very straightforward thriller. There are gunfights, car chases, family members in peril, and a suitably pyrotechnic finale. However, it never rises above the level of “generic Christian action novel.”
Most glaringly, Liparulo’s writing is pretty bad (particularly at the beginning of the novel). A constant flood of similes and metaphors makes for dull reading, not to mention that Liparulo spends far too much time “telling” and not “showing.”
The “spiritual message” of the novel, despite its inherent potential (is God a cruel or a loving deity?) consistently comes off as hackneyed. Characters sermonize for whole paragraphs, displaying very little in the way of real emotion or vulnerability. This reflects another of the book’s severe problems: an almost total lack of character development. With the exception of the protagonist, almost every single character is a one-dimensional cardboard cutout.
With the exception of two well-done twists in the novel’s last fifty pages, Liparulo plays things far too safe. A taut thriller must necessarily take risks: there must be a real chance that the hero will fail and that major characters will die. At no point does the novel become genuinely suspenseful, which makes for a plodding story lacking any sense of urgency. It doesn’t help that the “villains’ are singularly unimposing: not once did I believe they would ever do something truly horrific. (Later on, readers learn that their immortality can be overcome if they are beheaded; at this point, the once-intriguing concept starts feeling like a mashup of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Highlander”).
Of note: there’s a fair amount of violence in “The 13th Tribe” (more than in most overtly Christian literature). Thanks to inept prose and poor character development, however, it feels more akin to a schlocky Syfy TV pilot than an R-rated action movie.
So, is this book worth reading?
Probably not. There are plenty of good suspense novels – both Christian and secular – on the market, and “The 13th Tribe” never rises to their level. As a $4 purchase from Half-Price Books before a long flight, it’s not terrible…but it’s certainly not worth purchasing at full price.
A mediocre “thriller” that takes no risks and returns no payoff.
* I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”