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Van's the man: Christian novelist provides challenge to Dan Brown

Meet a thriller writer with stories packed full of faith, God's Word and genuine archaeological discoveries ...

JAMES HASTINGS talks to a Christian novelist providing a challenge to the thrillers of Dan Brown

For a Christian author, writing a novel which focuses on Judas Iscariot might not seem like the ideal plot.

Worse still, the heroine is a sceptical, lapsed Christian, estranged from her murdered father who tries to uncover a worldwide conspiracy aided by a mysterious religious figure known only as the Monsignor.

While it all may sound like another Dan Brown thriller, the actual author, Van R Mayhall Jr, is a lifelong Christian.

Inevitably, his books, Judas the Apostle, and the sequel, The Last Sicarius –  which take the reader on a nail-biting adventure to France and the back streets of Jerusalem and Rome – have been compared to Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons.
But that is where the similarity ends as Van’s writing is firmly based on his strong faith, the Bible and actual archaeological excavations.

“I actually quite enjoy Dan Brown’s books as thrillers. He knows how to tell a good story,” he explains.

“I suppose the main difference in my books is that they are biblical thrillers which uplift the Christian faith. Brown relies on symbology and other secular themes. While I am not the Anti-Dan Brown, you might say that in the way I think about my work, I’m the Un-Dan Brown.

“That doesn’t mean I dodge the difficult issues such as why there is so much evil in the world, or how we explain suffering. One of the main characters is the Kolektor who is a truly vicious individual, while the heroine, Dr Clotile Lejeune, is introduced as someone who has not only lost her Christian faith but is also estranged from her murdered father.”

Van R Mayhall, Jr is the senior partner in a law firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and he and his wife, Lorri, have three grown children. He grew up in a Christian family and while his faith was strong, he rarely read the Bible.

“One day, I decided I wanted to know more about the origins of faith and, over many months, I read it from cover to cover and was amazed at the many teachings and stories I never knew, or was only half familiar with. I realised just how relevant Scripture is today, wherever you live and whatever you do for a living,” he explains.

In Judas the Apostle, ancient language expert Dr Clotile (Cloe)Lejeune is happily living a quiet life in Seattle when her world is profoundly shaken. After she learns that her estranged father has been murdered, Cloe must travel with her soldier son, JE, back to her Louisiana hometown to unlock the mysteries of a 2000-year-old oil jar her father has left her — a jar inscribed with the name Judas Iscariot.

Cloe soon realises the ancient oil jar her father unearthed during the war may be the most important relic discovered in centuries. Across the globe, a billionaire arms merchant is leaving a trail of bodies in his wake in his pursuit of the jar and its contents.

Van explains how he was keen to weave the Christian faith into his stories in a positive way: “I wanted my books to feature faith, family and interesting local locations in Louisiana. In fact, it is the rediscovery of her faith, the meaning of family and her Louisiana roots which carry and uplift Cloe and the other central characters, in the face of the terrible evils they confront.

“At the same time, I hope the reader sees them as everyman, ordinary people who have experienced extreme challenges and who have, through faith and force of character, prevailed. My message is that ordinary people can overcome the obstacles life throws at them through faith.”

Van, adds with a smile, how he wanted to “see if readers had an appetite for a clean book”.

“There is no sex in my novels, graphic or otherwise,” he explains. “You could happily let your teenage son or daughter read my books without trepidation.

“If there is one thing I would want my books to achieve, it would be that more people would pick up a Bible and start reading for themselves. I can assure them, they will embark on an adventure that no other book can lead them to.”

+ Judas the Apostle and sequel The Last Sicarius are available from Amazon or all good bookshops.

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