Reviewed March 21, 2010.
Xulon Press, 2009. 483 pages.
Physician's assistant Parry St. Amand was surprised when the brilliant, if socially challenged, Dr. Rand Szabo asks to have lunch with her. Then he surprises her even more by asking her to go with his team on a medical mission trip to a poor former Soviet satellite country. A doctor backed out at the last minute, and if Parry can't go, they will have to call off the trip.
The particular country involved has been having political unrest, and Parry's friends and family think she's crazy. But she doesn't want to be the one to keep the team from helping where they are badly needed. She decides to go.
There are nine people on the team, including two other women, most of whom Parry knows from the hospital. However, three of the men are engineers, to help set up equipment and do repairs. One of those, Jake Spengler, is a former Ranger, who happens to be handsome and single. He has some tips about how to stay inconspicuous when traveling in a politically volatile area.
The team arrives at their destination and bunk in an orphanage run by wonderful, caring people. They have a busy surgery schedule, putting in long days. Then the unthinkable happens. The country has a military coup and the new dictator has put a price on the heads of Americans.
The team plans to smuggle out six people in vehicles, but the remaining three need to hike out, through rough terrain and the fresh snow of an early winter. Rand and Jake are natural choices, but Parry insists that she is the most fit of those who are left. So the three of them set out on the grueling trip overland, trying to stay unnoticed, but also to stay alive.
Once I got to that part, the story gripped me and wouldn't let go. I read into the early hours of the morning on a night when I really needed to get some sleep. I expected narrow escapes, physical challenges and plenty of danger, but A. M. Cormier gave them to me with details I didn't expect at all.
I need to admit up front that the author is a friend of mine, and I'm reviewing the book because I want it to do well, for her sake.
For the sake of my readers, I will admit that I wish my friend had not decided to self-publish. Mission seems to me to be just a professional edit away from being a truly magnificent book. There are some flaws -- some scattered misspellings and some gratuitous political rants that have little to do with the plot. Most challenging is the slow start -- you could completely skip the first chapter without missing it -- but I'm here to tell you that if you persevere, the book will be worth it.
If anything, the author goes too far with the old adage, "show, don't tell." There are a few places where she gives us a scene or a flashback scene when all we needed was to be told what happened. We don't need a flashback to understand that her family is pressuring her to get married. And more interesting than a flashback of her former romance would be to hear her explaining it to her new love. Those are nice scenes, but they do interrupt the flow of the book.
Yes, there is a new love in Parry's life by the end of the book, and I love the way the romance is handled. This, too, had some nice surprises, and I found it beautiful and satisfying.
Another strength of the book is the author's facility with medical terms and procedures. You can tell she's worked in medicine, and her descriptions of medical situations the team faces all ring true.
I should also say that as a reviewer I have a strong prejudice against self-published books. This is based on how many I've seen that are truly awful.
However, I honestly believe that Mission is an exception. I admit that fondness for my friend kept me going through the slow start, but it was not friendship that kept me reading until early morning! It was the suspense of wondering how these characters I'd come to care about were going to survive.
I feel risky calling the book "wholesome." I don't want to make it sound boring, because it's far from being that. But it's refreshing to have a main character with morals, who thinks about how she can honor God and serve others. Unlike the political views mentioned, the talk about God doesn't come off as preachy at all -- just a matter-of-fact part of Parry's life.
So if you'd like to read a story about people trying to do something good and then getting caught in a dangerous situation, with good, old-fashioned suspense and a dash of romance, give Mission a try.