So I said on Monday I'd be posting about my favorite book of the year (that wasn't published in '09), and my favorite author.
Head Game by Tim Downs was published in 2006. Right before that, I became a fan of Tim Downs after reading his book Plague Maker, a taut thriller about biological warfare, revenge, and forgiveness. I kept my eye out on his books even as I missed reading Head Game. Last year one of the blog tours I participate in offered his latest book Less Than Dead , which continued with his famous "Bug Man" character, forensic entomologist Nick Polchak. That book ended up my favorite for 2008. I also really enjoyed the follow up book to it, Ends of the Earth just recently.
Head Game is a different book from his previous tales. It starts with an unusual twist - a suicide note in the form of a comic book (drawn by Downs himself, who was a former cartoonist!). It then follows Cale Caldwell, a member of a 3 person PsyOps (psychological operations) unit from Desert Storm. He had recently moved to Charlotte, NC, with his beloved wife and 13 year old daughter. A drunk driver tragically took his wife, and now a grieving Cale is struggling to connect with his depressed teenager.
Soon he finds obstacles that he can't believe - his daughter is turned against him, his new job is in jeopardy, and he finds secrets about people in his past that shake him to the core. He doesn't realize that someone has learned the game of psy-ops, and now he is the target.
Downs is very, VERY good at his research and weaving it in seamlessly into his novel. Even though we see some events from the perspective of the bad guy, and we think we know what is going to happen, he plays out the suspense skillfully. The thrills build up until a dramatic final conflict that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat and their heads spinning with twists and turns.
The only thing that lacks is some of the great humor he writes for Nick Polchak, but the book really doesn't lend itself to that. Still, his wit is clear at times.
Tim Downs is probably my favorite author right now. Between the way he writes with humor and intelligence, with great suspense and rich characters, I am really trying to take in his writing style and understand his craft. He also manages to pluck the heart strings with themes of hope, forgiveness, fear, and love. He is never overt in his spirituality, but he always manages to apply subtle tones of God in there. I've seen critiques of his work that he really doesn't put Christianity in his books. I disagree. It is there, but his books are not meant to be a neon sign to follow, but gentle hints and teases that make us long for the destination. He's not going to spell it out, but he'll carefully and cleverly reveal a Hand at work.
I don't hear a lot about Tim Downs within the CBA community. Like Tom Morrisey, Downs seems to operate under the radar, without the fanfare of a Ted Dekker or Frank Peretti. This is too bad, because between the thrillers Head Game and Plague Maker, and the Bug Man books, Tim Downs is one of the best authors out there. Check him out!