By Kit Power
Publisher: The Sinister Horror Company
Pub. Date: September 28, 2015
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
That is what happened when I started reading GodBomb! by Kit Power. The novel, which I picked up due to a rave review by a friend despite what to me seemed to be a turn-off title, occurs in the year 1995 in a North Devon church during a evangelical revival meeting. A young man steps up to the pulpit to testify and reveals he is wearing a bomb. In the next few hours, he wants to talk to God and have God talk to him. The people in the audience need to pray to make this happen or he will detonate the bomb, killing not only himself but the more than 70 people in the church.
Power's novel got to me in the first few pages, It is the epitome of a page turner as we meet the people in the audience and watch them confront this mad suicidal seeker who hold their lives literally in his hands holding down the red button that, if released, will unleash the blast. But I was listening to the news in the background that day while reading. "Breaking News: Gunman kills nine in Oregon college shooting." It was later reported even though the details are still somewhat vague, that the shooter asked his victims if they were Christians and then shot them. It was also reported that he stated before shooting them, "I will see you soon". Whether the accounts were totally accurate is moot. What it does tells us is that the shooter, while obviously mentally ill, was also a confused and troubled man burdened by his own hatred and doubt. He was so caught up in his own suffering that he was cold and heartless to the suffering of others, just like the protagonist in GodBomb!. It is too easy to label one a sociopath in each rather sterile times yet I am not sure that explains much. Is the protagonist in GodBomb! a sociopath? That will be for the reader to decide.
The news troubled me so much that I had to delay reading any more of GodBomb!. When I picked it up a day or two later I started over, knowing this book was no longer just a thriller. I also quickly realized that Kit Power clearly didn't think of it as just a thriller either. The novel's unnamed protagonist is also a man with deep questions and a perverted and sinister way to get the answers. The characters in the captive audience all have their own questions and issues. We learn about them through their thoughts, interaction and responses that ranges from brave to cowardly and everywhere in-between. The unnamed bomber's question to some, "Did God speak to you?" becomes a terrifying mantra with varying replies and results. The main characters that interact with the bomber equal about seven or eight yet they are in essence the representatives of the entire audience and their fears.
Power walks a tightrope in these pages. The problem is that the story can be bogged down in biases and assumptions. It can easily turn into a propaganda piece for either the believer or the unbeliever. The author deftly avoids this. We are caught up not in finding the answers but in how the characters react and survive while being placed in a life and death situation involving an unanswerable question. It occurred to me that we are already in that dilemma. We struggle overtly or covertly with the question of Life's meaning. We wait calmly for some, but in anxiety, fear, and chaos for others, for the point where our own bomb explodes and we may decide on our answer at that time or perhaps after that time. All the author is really doing is placing that existential dilemma in a nutshell of a few hours.
One of the things that intrigued me was Power's setting of 1995. This was before the Dunbane school shooting that had the result of banning most guns in England. The U.K. does not have the dubious honor of regular mass shootings. I couldn't help thinking if this is why the author appears to have what I would call a healthy attachment to this story's events. I would think an American writer might be to tempted to lean into either political or religious meanderings. Powers resists these traps and his tale is better and more powerful without them. It is a suspense thriller and an damn excellent one. But it is also a story of seekers and their emotions and of the challenges of birth, life and death. It may be one of the most powerful novels you will read all year.