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Stephen Hiemstra

Adult; Mystery/Thriller; (Market)

What happens when an online date goes horribly wrong? Luke Stevens meets Abi Ling online and they meet for a quiet summer evening walking around Baltimore Harbor. When they step into a coffee shop, a terrorist team attempts to snatch Abi at gun point. Luke saves the day and pays the ultimate price, but U.S. relations with China preclude him from dying just yet—Abi is the daughter of the Chinese premier. The CIA recruits Luke’s father, the divorced Pastor Phil Stevens, to masquerade as his son and flush out the terrorists. Can he remain faithful to his marriage vows in the midst of deception, temptation, and betrayal? Can he find love again?
The first novel in debut novelist Hiemstra’s high-stakes Christian thriller series, Masquerade tells the story of Luke Stevens, a financial engineer for the United States government, and his father, Phil Stevens. While on a blind date, Luke foils a group of terrorists attempting the abduction of the daughter of Ling Xiu, the premier of China. Luke appears to die in the dustup, and Phil, a pastor, is tasked with impersonating his son in order to help the CIA flush out the terrorists. Phil reluctantly agrees, but is concerned about his former congregation and the impact of the mission on his own family, including the ex-wife he is struggling to forgive.

At just over 200 pages, Masquerade is fast-paced and packed with action, though that’s not all that’s on Hiemstra’s mind. Phil, the lead character for the majority of the book, often reflects on Christian values, and the narration and dialogue are often distinguished with Christian themes, including occasional quotes from scripture; readers who enjoy reading about the faith will likely enjoy this respectful treatment of a pastor who doubles as a CIA agent. The plotting offers strong echoes of Cold War spy craft, with double identities, a switcheroo funeral, and Phil’s physical transformation, and the prose, while often driven by dialogue, carries a lot of energy.

Some of that dialogue is, at times, stilted, and readers might face some confusion at the narrative choice to refer to the undercover Phil as “Luke.” Perhaps intended to suggest the delicate complexity of switching identities, that decision has the effect of distancing readers from the protagonist’s emotions and motivations. Lei Han makes an effective heavy, and the exciting adventure eventually involves the vice president, Air Force Two, a trip to China, and a jolt of an ending, likely to be picked up in future books. Christian readers of thrillers will find much that’s engaging here.

Takeaway: This short, fast-paced Christian spy thriller sends a pastor undercover–as his own son.

Great for fans of: Diane and David Munson, Joel Rosenberg.

Production grades
Cover: C+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A-