Ryan Coe is a reporter who has made an interesting life for herself. After she divorced her husband, she took an emotionally-jarring trip to Africa to get an in-depth story for the AP for six weeks before returning to find that her ex-husband had moved with their two sons from Chicago to New Mexico. These were the three sons who refused to live with her after the divorce. Ryan quits the AP and joins a local newspaper in New Mexico in order to be closer to her rejecting sons. Her entire world is rocked when she arrives at the scene of a crime to snap photos and finds that her son, Jake, has been accused with the crime-running over a Hispanic boy with a pick-up truck without a driver's licence or driver's permit. He has been accused of hate crime and sent to jail to await a sentence. Ryan tries to use this as a springboard to get back into her elusive sons' lives, all while trying to wrench the truth out of a very silent Jake. Ryan turns to Sullivan Crisp, Christian counselor extraordinaire, for help on controlling her anger and ends up telling him everything. But Sullivan Crisp may not be who he seems to be, especially since he's now been charged with murder as well. With the world falling in around Ryan, she must cling to God to make it through the storm.
Stephen Arterburn clearly draws from his experience as a counselor in order to fabricate a realistic story that could happen to anyone. But in the end, this plot is highly typical, and is only anchored to the Elite list by its superb characters.
The characters are some of the best I have ever met in my entire life. Never in all of my reading have I seen any this good. Stephen Arterburn slowly develops them throughout this 400-page tome, proving that it doesn't take a complex plot to fill pages, just good character development. Ryan is a very good and imperfect lead that brings a lot of real people I know to mind. Her ex-husband, two sons, and many other characters are also fully developed. Stephen did not make the common mistake of only giving attention to the lead or leads, but gave each character personal attention, making this book strong and long. Since Stephen wrote a typical plot, he had to deliver with characters, which he did.
The court cases of Jake Coe and Sullivan Crisp are not completely unrealistic or outrageous, their ends are just predictable. Stephen should have chosen a little more complex elements than the ones he chose. Perhaps he spent so much time on his characters, he didn't feel like trying to write a good plot. Surely as a counselor, he cannot excuse the end to be very realistic. Perhaps this is what Nancy Rue contributes to the book. There are two good plot elements that make the end more tasteful, one of them being a key character death, but it isn't the same as a more realistic court case.
All in all, Stephen Arterburn is a good author because of his superb character development. But if he expects a five star book out of us, he needs to work on his ends.