Monday, December 2, 2019
A Cross to Kill review and giveaway!
A gripping debut thriller pits a man of God against terrorists--and his own deadly past
John Cross is a small-town pastor, bent on leading his flock to follow God's calling. He's not the sort of man one would expect to have a checkered past.
But the truth is that the man behind the pulpit preaching to his sheep was once a wolf--an assassin for the CIA. When John decided to follow Christ, he put that work behind him, determined to do penance for all the lives he took. He vowed never to kill again.
Now someone wants the peaceful pastor to pay for his sins with his own life. And when a terrorist out for revenge walks into the church, John's secrets are laid bare. Confronted with his past, he must face his demons and discover whether a man can truly change. Can he keep his vow--even when the people he loves are in mortal danger? Will his congregation and the brave woman he's learning to care for be caught in the cross fire? In the end, John's life may be the only sacrifice he has left to offer. . .
Andrew Huff's thrilling debut is not only a riveting story of suspense, it's also a deep exploration of the moral quandaries that face those who choose to follow the Prince of Peace in a violent world.
My thoughts: This book was quite unique, with John Cross having turned from an assassin to a pastor who still helps out with his old contacts as long as they don't require him to use his skills as a snipper to end someone's life. When a job goes side ways and leaves him with more enemies, John must come to terms with the way he has changed and where to go from there. I thought that the book was quite clever, since it has a lot of twists and turns that will keep the reader guessing. It was almost to high action for me, since it starts off in the middle of a rescue and doesn't slow down! I did get a tiny bit annoyed with John, since he goes a bit overboard (in my opinion) on punishing himself for the choices he made through his choice of a profession before becoming a Christian. It's still a good story and I look forward to the next book in the series!
I received this book from the publisher. This is my honest review and is in no way influenced by receiving a complimentary copy.
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An Interview with Andrew Huff,
Author of A Cross to Kill
Q: A Cross to Kill is your first book release. Tell us about your journey to become an author.
A: Storytelling is something that’s been a part of my life since an early age, though I wasn’t convinced I could actually be an author until much later in life. I would write stories every day using toys, sometimes turning those stories into drawings, and on occasion, writing ideas down. I spent my high school years telling stories through video, even helping develop narrative projects with my home church. Yet I still wasn’t motivated to sit down and attempt to write something longer than a five-minute screenplay. That changed right around the time I finished college.
I was an avid reader growing up, and after finishing my undergraduate degree, I started consuming full length mystery/suspense novels. The problem I ran into was that many of the authors I enjoyed did not hold to the same worldview or values that I did. And whenever I found a thriller that did, I was often left wanting. So, I decided if I couldn’t find the type of book I wanted to read, then I should try to write it. It took many years of learning the craft and discovering the right story before I was able to sit down and not only start, but successfully finish, a full length, action-packed, suspense story that I was ready to share with readers.
Q: Introduce us to your new series, and specifically A Cross to Kill. What inspired the story?
A: I love letting real-life events inspire fiction, and my new series is no exception. When I first started developing the storyline, there were a handful of high-profile executions of journalists at the hands of terrorists overseas. What made these executions unique to this era was the fact that videos of the killings were spread across the internet. As these tragic events were taking place, I found myself wishing someone had intervened. Thus, the rescue attempt at the beginning of A Cross to Kill was born.
The other aspect of real-life that inspired the story was my own experience in ministry and the reality of how unique that calling is in the life of a person. I not only spent time in local church ministry myself, but my father was also a small country church pastor during my early elementary years. I loved the idea of capturing the fish-out-of- water experience of someone who did a very different job finding themselves learning what it means to spiritually care for a group of people. I also have to admit, I’m greatly inspired by the thrills of such action franchises as Mission: Impossible, Jason Bourne, and James Bond. I want my series to take the Bible and the Church seriously while offering the same kind of jaw-dropping action those novels and films excel at.
Q: The main character, John Cross, is a small-town pastor with a top secret past the members of his church would find hard to believe. What are some of things John left behind in his former life?
A: John didn’t just leave behind a past filled with poor choices and immoral behavior. Almost immediately, we get a sense that he performed actions in his role with the CIA and on behalf of his country that he is unable to forgive himself for. At a key moment in the story, we discover that John’s marksmanship was put to use by his superiors in unpleasant ways. You’ll have to read the book for all the details, but what I can say is John can’t help but evaluate his actions through a rigid view of Scripture, and as a result he’s struggling to believe God could truly forgive him.
What I find interesting is the theological question surrounding his previous life that he’s finding himself at odds with. Is the taking of a human life ever justifiable? There’s much to unpack with that question, but when we first meet John, he’s not yet taken the deep plunge into his theological training, and therefore, has very black and white opinions on complicated issues. This creates a conflict within him as he struggles to cope with the memories of his time with CIA and strive to live under the forgiveness of God in Christ.
Q: What events led up to John finding and following Christ?
A: John’s conversion has already happened when A Cross to Kill begins, but later in the book we get to hear his version of it. It’s a rather unconventional story, but that’s what I like about it. The fact that his conversion happens while he’s on assignment is such a great picture of the two competing forces in his life, that of his ingrained training and his newfound commitment to Christianity.
The short version is that after performing operations of a lethal nature with the CIA for so long, John lost his sense of humanity. While tracking a target in Spain, he ends up in a cathedral during a Catholic service. Unable to understand the liturgy, he still found himself drawn to the religious symbols. Compelled to know more about the man hanging from the cross, he forgot about his target, found an English Bible at a local shop, and devoted himself to knowing more. While everyone’s story is different, John’s story is one of God reaching down with an irresistible draw to set aside an undeserving man for His great purpose.
Q: What are some of the faith struggles that John faces along the way that readers can identify with?
A: I know there are faith struggles John faces that readers can identify with because they are ones I struggle with even to this day! For one, John can’t seem to shake loose from past habits and hang-ups. Sometimes those habits can be used for good, but more often than not, John finds himself fighting to walk in faith and love and not let his flesh take control when things go awry. Much of the Christian life is about this same battle. I am at constant odds with the desires of my flesh, and at times, I have sympathized with the ancient monks who punished themselves to try and defeat their own impulses (a practice called flagellation, and one which John has adapted in his own way).
Another faith struggle that I know many readers can identify with is the difficulty of accepting God’s forgiveness for not only the sins we’ve committed in the past, but the sins we will commit in the future. John struggles to believe God could forgive him for what he did while in the employ of the CIA, and that affects his ability to pass forgiveness on to others. This is something I, myself, have also found difficult. It’s not hard to believe God might forgive a single mistake here and there, but after failing again and again and again, it’s easy to expect a limit to God’s forgiveness. That’s when we can become trapped in the erroneous belief that faith is not enough, and we must work to retain God’s favor.
Q: Writers usually write what they know. Is there any of you in John Cross?
A: If there was, I wouldn’t be allowed to tell you. Just kidding! The more exciting aspects of John’s story are nothing like mine, and I only wish I had half of his intuition and skill. It is true, however, that writers usually write what they know, and I’m no exception. The part of me in John Cross is less the man and more the day-to-day experience in local church ministry.
When I wrote A Cross to Kill, I was on staff with a Southern Baptist church in Central Virginia, though a much larger church than Rural Grove. So much of what John experiences with the church and its members is based on real experiences that I drew from during my time on a church staff as well as from growing up as a preacher’s kid in rural Tennessee churches. The congregants we get to know are not based on individuals as much as an amalgamation of wonderful people I had the opportunity to get to know through the years.
Q: The book description states that A Cross to Kill is not only a riveting story of suspense, it’s also a deep exploration of the moral quandaries that face those who choose to follow the Prince of Peace in a violent world. Can we talk more about the moral quandaries?
A: A big moral quandary John faces, and I believe many of us wrestle with, is whether there is any legitimate justification for the taking of the life of another person. Is it ever right to kill another person? The Scripture could not be clearer that we are not to murder, and Jesus goes further by condemning any hateful thought toward a fellow human. There is much more Scripture to consider on the issue, but the answer to the question is not cut and dry.
The debate always seems to yield the same “yes,” “no,” and “sometimes,” answers. I didn’t want to try and provide a rigid response one way or the other in the novel, but I did wanted the characters to wrestle with the question and answers. Naturally, they probably wouldn’t ultimately agree. But for John in particular, what the characters decide, would drive the decisions they make when faced with danger. This is what we have to understand about the issue ourselves: If we believe Scripture gives a clear answer, whatever answer that might be, we must be prepared to let that answer influence how we respond to particular situations and issues regardless of how unconventional and perhaps even countercultural that may be.
Q: Is it possible to truly put our pasts behind us? How should we respond when our previous mistakes and decisions don’t stay in the past?
A: I don’t believe it’s possible to truly put our pasts behind us, and I don’t think that’s ever been God’s intention. We see many times in the Scriptures how God seeks to remind His people not only of the good they’ve experienced, but also the bad. The past is not meant to be forgotten, but to shape our response today. And that can be both the pleasant memories as well as the painful regrets we carry from before.
When we remember God’s goodness in our past, it is cause for celebration and worship. In much the same way, when our previous mistakes and decisions come back into our present, it is a moment for us to acknowledge how God continues to be good in the midst of a broken world. We see His goodness in the fact that those mistakes are still covered by the blood of Jesus Christ and there’s nothing we did then or could even do now to change that. When our past mistakes return and remind others of pain we may have caused, it’s important to not only acknowledge God’s grace and mercy but also seek reconciliation and restoration to the best of our ability. Ultimately, when we humble ourselves before the Lord, He is faithful to do a work in us and in others so that even in our shortcomings, He can be glorified.
Q: Without giving away too much, what can readers expect as the Shepherd Suspense series continues?
A: I’m so excited to continue the story with these characters, and I can’t wait for readers to pick up the next books in the series. One thing that is true about the Christian life is that it is a life-long pursuit of Christlikeness includes many ups and downs. We won’t find our sanctification complete this side of heaven, and so neither will my characters!
For John, he may have crossed a hurdle with accepting God’s forgiveness for his past, but that doesn’t mean he’s dealt with every decision he’s made leading up to becoming the pastor of Rural Grove Baptist Church. And John’s not the only one with a complicated past. The thing I’m most excited about sharing is the action-packed twists and turns that promise to keep the characters on their heels and the readers up past their bedtimes.