Book Review: Playing Saint by Zachary Bartels

I’m still slowly getting through all these book reviews I have to do and next up is the Christian Thriller novel Playing Saint by Zachary Bartels (title links to Goodreads).

But just to give the quick blurb: Rising mega-pastor Parker Saint was wrapped up in his ratings and his book deal. But that was before the cops and the serial killer, the Vatican operatives, and the centuries-old plot to conceal an ancient relic. Now he’s just trying to stay alive.

Parker Saint is an up-and-coming superstar pastor on the verge of achieving everything he’s wanted–including a national TV program and major book deal. His success seems all but 21556063guaranteed until an angry incident with a flight attendant. To keep his growing empire from collapsing, Parker cuts a deal and agrees to serve as a police consultant on the trail of a twisted serial killer who marks his victims with religious symbols. The problem is, Parker’s anything but an expert, faking his way through the investigation by slipping away to consult his smart phone.

As he is drawn deeper into a web of intrigue involving an obsessive and demanding detective, a trio of relentless Vatican operatives, a string of botched exorcisms, and a centuries-old conspiracy to conceal a mysterious relic, Parker finds himself questioning everything he has been trying so hard to protect.

Building to an intense climax, “Playing Saint” is a timely exploration of what compels us, what defines us, and what redeems us. With its combination of suspense, humor, and intriguing characters, it will captivate readers until the final twist.

I went into this novel thinking it was going to be a unique thriller – I really liked the idea of this mega-pastor not really being what everyone thinks he is and the fact that he’s strayed and become focused too much on his popularity and how he looks rather than on being a good leader and providing relevant messages. Plus the cover is pretty compelling!

I identify as a Christian, though not really a huge practicer – I don’t really attend church and I mostly focus on being a good person – and I think this kind of hindered my take on this novel because ultimately a core idea of this novel is about having faith and believing in yourself and things that are greater than yourself too. But I’ll try to give as best of a review as I can.

The Writing

Bartels’ writing was good, but not amazing. He was descriptive, but only to the extent of giving a basic idea of what was going on or what something looked like. Dialogue and Parker’s inner dialogue and behavior was more of the focus. Everything made sense – well except that one part of the plot.

The Characters

Parker Saint (which of course is not his birth name). I didn’t love him and I didn’t hate him. He wasn’t as egotistical as I was expecting, but he didn’t exactly do anything that made me love him.

The Vatican Operatives. Seriously? I don’t even know what to say about this. The last thing I expected was to read about Vatican Operatives who travel around investigating religious related events and other situations. And they tote guns around. But then again, what do I know?

Other secondary characters is the main Detective who just seemed like a cliche hard-ass detective. Paige, Parker’s assistant, I liked though we don’t really get to know her that well. All the other characters really just added what they needed to the story.

What I did like was reading from the perspective of the killer. I liked the insight it gave into who it might be and kept me guessing.

The Plot

Not. Thrilling. At. All. I think I may have hyped this book up a little in my head and was expecting the run of the mill suspense, but instead a lot of the focus was on Parker dealing with life stuff and basically drowning when it came to helping the detectives with the case. I get it, the case and the killer is kind of a secondary character, but don’t call it a thriller when I was never on the edge of my seat until the climax was actually happening. Nothing before that.

I did like that each chapter of the killer’s built up to their identity reveal and we got glimpses of how their whole thing started and what he did before the main killings and then onwards to the present.

And also, what in the world did the Vatican Secret Operatives (I can’t remember what they called themselves) had to do with anything? They basically took Parker around on a totally separate case. Sure, they helped towards the end, but that whole part of the plot just didn’t seem realistic to me.

What I Didn’t Like 

As you might be able to tell from above, I wasn’t a huge fan of the fact that it wasn’t as thrilling or suspenseful as I wanted. I didn’t understand the Vatican plot line at all. Overall, just not my favorite.

I think this will end up a donated book.

Happy Reading!

XO Nicole

P.S. Look out for a ton of reviews coming! Notable reviews to come are: The Rook, Eligible, & Ivory and Bone

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