Avenging angels vie with demonic creatures to either carry out or try to thwart the will of no less than Almighty God in this holy rolling, get-on-your-feet-and-praise Jesus gem of a book by skilled author Bernard L. Dillard.
It’s a cosmic battle royale for the souls of the humans they’re charged with looking after, but archangels Gabriel, Raphaela, and Uriel know they’ve got a powerful Ally at their back as they try to keep Dr. G, Tario, Manuela, and especially the Player Kemal safe from Satan’s dangerous envoys
For their part, fallen angels, Mictian, Belial, and Ashtoreth feel equally confident they can continue to stir up sin-filled behavior in those being overseen by the angelic host.
Indeed, here on Earth, where Free Will is both a blessing and a curse, the outcome of this titanic daily struggle for souls is always a bit in doubt and outright danger.
The story centers around several main players, all of whom are either saved or not saved. As one says drily, “Ain’t no levels in salvation, just sanctification. If you saved, you saved. Just like if you pregnant, you pregnant. Ain’t no almost pregnant or halfway pregnant. Either you got a bun in the oven or you don’t.”
These members of the Alive Christ Church of Las Vegas, Nevada are, by and large, a God-fearing group. And under the fiery leadership of Haitian-Hispanic Pastor Ato Castillo, they meet weekly to lift up His holy name in sweat-drenched services that can last for hours, depending on how the Holy Spirit moves them.
But it’s their behavior outside these sanctified walls that create the superb tension that resonates like a live wire throughout the book, leaving the reader to wonder when the Biblical other shoe will drop.
For not everyone is as holy as they seem. Kemal and Manuela, for example, open the story with one of the most erotic sex scenes you’ll find outside an x-rated piece of pulp fiction. Then, they carry on their respective roles at church as though they are worthy of congregational admiration.
But Gabriel will only tolerate so much bad behavior before he unsheathes the long sword that rides close by his right hand at all times, and, swiftly, with a suddenness that will leave most readers reaching for their Bibles to rededicate their lives to God, he acts to extract a terrible penance for leading such a two-faced existence.
Dr. Garnet Gibbs, mild, erudite professor at UNLV by day and down-home, likeable mother and grandmother by night, is a central figure who can be said to be a shining example of this story’s overarching theme: get right and stay right with God, because you’re always being either guarded 24/7 by a winged warrior, or you’re being sized up for a sin brought on by Ashtoreth or one of her unholy colleagues.
There are, in fact, many well-drawn characters in this skillfully-written novel that you will come to care deeply about. Garnet’s daughter Jamay for one, and her young son R.J., are entering that problematic phase of the parent-child relationship in which boundaries are being tested and difficult questions are being asked.
And R.J.’s father Redd is half a world away, guarding America as one of the last U.S. Marines stationed in Afghanistan. So even though he is well guarded himself by Archangel Gabriel, who traverses the distance between the soldier’s home and his desolate barracks in a heartbeat, Redd cannot be there to help raise R.J. in the Spirit-filled way of Iife. That falls to his ever-vigilant mom and grandma, who do their very best despite their own dally challenges.
Space doesn’t permit a full description of every character, plot turn and nuance of this fine book. Suffice to say that you’ll want to pay very close attention as the world changes irrevocably for some key characters, particularly Garnet, who delivers a stunning conclusion that will leave you pondering its significance long after you’ve turned the last page.
Five-plus stars to Two til Midnight. It is a finely drawn narrative that makes an unreal world of angels and demons among us very real indeed.