Book Review: Directed Verdict by Randy Singer
"What I see coming is extreme persecution in our country," says novelist Randy Singer. "There have been more Christian martyrs in the last 100 years than in the 1900 years before. Two-thirds of the world's Christians live in countries where there are laws that prohibit Christian worship and/or evangelism." As he became more aware of persecution of Christians around the world, Singer was moved to write about it.
Directed Verdict, Singer's debut novel (WaterBrook, 2002), is a compelling story with that very issue as the backdrop. It is at once a legal thriller and a love story, with a laudable theme. In an exclusive interview, Singer explained why he chose Saudi Arabia as the setting for the persecution of Charles and Sarah Reed, his fictional missionaries.
"Saudi Arabia is the one country where everyone acknowledges there is no religious freedom," Singer says, "but even the U.S. won't do anything about it."
In Directed Verdict, Reed dies following his torture by the Muttawa, Saudi Arabia's religious police. He and his wife are framed as drug dealers, and the house church they had established has to go even deeper under cover. With her two young children, Sarah Reed returns to Norfolk, Virginia, where her late husband's insurance company refuses to pay his life-insurance benefits.
From the time Mrs. Reed hires attorney Brad Carson, the story forges full-steam ahead, peopled with crooked lawyers, corrupt Saudi politicians, humble Christians, assorted skeptics, and one liberal American judge. The suit Carson files against the Saudi government and Muttawa Director Ahmed Aberijan addresses persecution of Christians, challenges the religious intolerance of a nation, and alters how international law may deal with the sensitive issue.
The novel moves at a variable pace, often fast enough to be a real page-turner, but sometimes slow enough to mold its characters into real and believable people. In the context of this heavy issue, Singer creates men and women who exhibit warmth and humor, fear and courage, honor and deceit. Sarah Reed's witness -- by her life and her words -- lets Singer weave the Gospel into the fabric of the story in a very natural way.
The battle lines are pretty clearly drawn between the good guys and the bad guys until a clever plot development creates suspense. It becomes clear that one of Carson's team is a traitor and is consorting with the enemy. His longtime office aide, his unorthodox new paralegal, or the law school beauty he's falling for -- someone is obviously selling him out.
Complex legal maneuvers and credible courtroom scenes owe much to Singer's own experience. He grew up in New York's Catskill Mountains, went to law school, and eventually headed the litigation section of one of Virginia's largest law firms. Later, the Yankee lawyer moved still further south, settling in Atlanta. As executive vice president of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, he often handles religious freedom issues.
Singer was concerned about the authenticity of his torture scenes and his depiction of the persecuted church. But he was strongly affirmed when a former church planter read his completed manuscript and said the descriptions were right on target. "This was a man," says Singer, "who was beaten for two hours, and sentenced to hang because he refused to give names [of other believers]. He was on the way to his execution when he was suddenly sent back to the Philippines because of that government's intervention."
As a street preacher in U.S. cities, Singer has himself been forced by law enforcement to move from public areas where he had set up to preach. Last year, he told an audience at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, "[I]f we want to stand up to the tyranny of tolerance that is taking over this country, and if we are going to resist the pressures of political correctness, then we will face criticism and we will face persecution -- and we had better be ready for it."
With the quality of Singer's first try at fiction, readers will look forward to Irreparable Harm, his second novel, scheduled to be out in May 2003. Directed Verdict elicits a host of emotions -- anger, fear, conviction, empathy, sorrow, and more. But mainly, Singer hopes it will awaken the reader to the seriousness of the persecution issue.
By Randall Murphree