Thursday, September 29, 2016

Review: Which Half David by Mark Sasse

Which Half David
by Mark Sasse

30845918American mission worker Tobin Matthews becomes a local hero and celebrity in the Sulu Republic when he inadvertently foils a gang of human traffickers. But the heroism cannot mask his desperate soul, which wrestles with a broken marriage and a crippling set of doubts. As he sinks to a new low, his brazen ex-lover arrives in Sulu with her own agenda. The Asian beauty quickly becomes the greatest temptation of his life, and he must decide how far he is willing to go to have her.

Which Half David is a modern twist on the centuries old tale of King David. Set against the lush backdrop of the fictitious Southeast Asian island nation of Sulu, it is the story of one man’s dramatic fall from grace, and his struggle to come to grips with both halves of who he really is.

My Take:
Dynamic, charismatic Tobin Matthews is a larger-than-life missionary hero, having served in the back country of the Republic of Sulu, to the indigenous Bataki tribe, for quite a few years. While he is visiting the tribal chief, Gani, a large contingent of local police show up with machine guns, declaring that the newly built church is an unlawful structure and will be torn down, and demanding that Tobin and his Christ leave, or they will begin shooting.

As they open fire, the villagers defend themselves, and end up killing all the officers. Days later, nine members of the tribe are arrested, while Tobin inadvertently stumbles upon, and takes down, a notorious gang of sex traffickers operating in the city below. This makes him a national hero.

The resulting investigations of the two incidents put the mission work in a tailspin, and the Mission Board sends Kendra Nguyen and her husband Bill to assist and sort out the mess. But Kendra has her own agenda, concealing to the Board the failed intimate relationship she had with Tobin in college.

This modern-day retelling of the story of King David has a lot of sexual tension in it, as the two ex-lovers conceal their past from their respective spouses, and while Tobin attempts to fight the shameless advances of the temptress he used to be intimate with. The internal struggle Tobin has to overcome, his failures and redemption, his passionate faith and darkening heart, become the central theme of the book.

PG - There are a couple violent scenes in the book. The beginning incident between the police and the villagers is quite violent, but is not overly graphic. There are several fights, and a stabbing. Not much more than you would have seen in Beauty and the Beast.

PG - I believe there are just a few curse words in the book. I might even be misremembering.

Drug Content:
PG -  Drinking occurs to excess in a few places. Drinking alcohol occurs rather often in the book at social levels.

Adult Content:
PG-13 - Kendra is a beauty and in every scene wears something too revealing, whether it be a bikini, a tight skirt, or in one instance nothing at all. There are multiple scenes where trysts are plotted, infidelity is an undercurrent throughout. Lack of sexual intimacy in marriage is a recurring theme, and Kendra doesn't seem to have any moral compass.

Christian content:
Scripture is quoted and remembered somewhat often, and is recalled at critical times to show that characters lean on their own understanding of God and their faith to make it through tragedy. God acts miraculously a few times, and His hand of guidance and deliverance is evident throughout, even to the thwarting of evil plans.

Final analysis:
Missions work is a solid Christian ministry, and this book gave some insight into what mission work looks like in the field. The beautiful mountain waterfalls and rapids, the teeming city below, are real and tangible. The characters are very believable, though some seem unloveable and irredeemable. Supporting characters are especially well-developed, and I found myself liking Bill and Jane much more than Tobin or Kendra. Even Gani, Toggi, and Uhari are well-developed and solid characters. The action and tension throughout the book was gripping, and I found myself dreading the next page but unable to stop turning. Five stars.

About the Author:

Mark W SasseMark is a proud Western PA native but has lived most of the last twenty years in Vietnam and Malaysia. His experiences in Asia have redefined everything including his palate, his outlook on life, and naturally his writing. You can find him most days cruising around Penang Island, eating the local delicacies and taking in the sun and exotic breezes as he looks for interesting places to write.

He has authored four novels with number five and six already somewhere on the horizon. His interests cast a wide net - from politics to literature - to culture and language - to history and religion - making his writing infused with the unexpected as he seeks to tell authentic and engaging stories about people from all walks of life. His writing is straightforward and accessible to all, especially those who enjoy writing injected with doses of Asian culture, history, adventure, and delightful humor. You never know what you might get when you pick up a Sasse novel.

Besides novel-writing, Sasse is a prolific dramatist, having written and produced more than a dozen full-length dramatic productions. He especially is fond of the short play format and has won the Best Script award three consecutive years at the Short & Sweet Theatre Festival Penang. His play, "Words to Say at the End of the World" won five awards this year including Best Overall Performance and Best Director. His plays and short musicals have also been produced in Kuala Lumpur and Sydney, Australia. Performances of his scripts also won Gold and Bronze medals at the Southeast Asian Forensics Competition 2014.

His professional background is as diverse as his writing. He holds Master's degrees from California State University Dominquez Hills and Azusa Pacific University in Humanities and TESOL respectively. His undergraduate degree was in English, which helped him develop his passion for creative writing. He has extensive experience in teaching English, history, and drama.

On top of all of this, he loves to cook everything from gourmet pizzas, to Mexican, to various Asian dishes. Flavor is the key of both his cooking and his writing. He very much hopes you enjoy the taste.

Published Novels and Short Stories of Mark W. Sasse
2016 Which Half David
2015 A Love Story for a Nation - Kindle & Paperback
2014 If Love is a Crime: A Christmas Story - Kindle only
2014 The Reach of the Banyan Tree - Kindle & Paperback
2013 The Recluse Storyteller - Kindle & Paperback
2012 Beauty Rising - Kindle & Paperback

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