'The Valley of Dry Bones', Jerry Jenkins
Jerry Jenkins is no stranger to Christian fiction, having co-authored the ground breaking and extremely successful Left Behind series with Tim LaHaye, but he is perhaps less used to writing Bible-based stories on his own, having relied heavily in the past on LaHaye's provision of the scholarship and analysis upon which Jenkins then crafted his narrative. That being said, his first attempt at a solo novel from a religious perspective, Riven (Tyndale House, 2008), the story of the death-bed conversion of a career criminal and his interaction with a struggling prison chaplain, was reasonably successful - it may not have gained the large readership that the Left Behind books enjoyed, but criticism was mostly favourable, including praise of his versatility, and his avoidance of 'preachiness'.
The Valley of Dry Bones is Jenkin's latest foray into this field, and sadly he comes up a little dry himself. On the surface, he has a fine plot - a seventeen-year drought in California that has turned the heavily populated state into a virtual graveyard, and the struggles of the 1% who attempt to survive while helping others. The problem is that, like the sand box imagery Jenkins employs, the tale that emerges is mostly surface deep, and more than a little barren. His narrative, as always, is well paced, but his readers are left with more questions than answers. The transposition of End Times prophecies from the Book of Ezekiel onto a modern canvas is handled reasonably well, but we learn nothing about the causes of the drought, nothing beyond vague hints as to how the rest of the world is coping some twenty years into the future, and surprisingly little about the characters who shoot at high velocity from one end of the plot to the other. Even the End Times aspect is underplayed, with no real sense of resolution, let along revelation. Jenkins has a good enough concept, but it just doesn't deliver the punch you would expect from a writer of his experience and past success.
That being said, the narrative is well paced, the characters are likeable enough, if a tad two dimensional, and the Christian message underpinning the whole is solid, and has its roots in one of the less well-known books of the Old Testament, so there are plenty of reasons to pick up a copy of this latest offering. If you are new to Jenkins, you might be disappointed, and if you are an old fan of his work then you might have expected more from this, but for die-hard fans, and those with a broad interest in the links between modern fiction and biblical texts, The Valley of Dry Bones is worth a look. I don't regret the time I spent reading it, but if I hadn't known Jenkins of old, it certainly wouldn't make me want to rush out and buy his next book.
'The Valley of Dry Bones' was released in paperback by Worthy Publishing on 31 May 2016.