Midwest Book Review---Diane Donovan
Saving the Innocents is all about courage, strength, and personal effort; and as it chronicles the life and efforts of one Mary Jane Chevalier (an 'everywoman' who feels powerless but in fact is powerful), it also reflects modern society's milieu - and thus will resonate with readers looking for positive stories about courage and determination in the face of impossible odds.
But Saving the Innocents isn't a story without violence: indeed, the first paragraph has Mary Jane facing death with little more than the snap of her gum as a response: "She thought it funny . . . what went through her mind while waiting for the bullet. Time slowed down in that moment. Several thoughts and feelings flashed - alternating waves. Her body felt relaxed at first, as though relief had finally come. Freedom. And she welcomed it."
The first striking thing to note about Saving the Innocents is its attention to detail and description, which capture powerful images with a pen finely honed by the moment: "The sound was like a bumblebee as it split the smoke-filled air. She swung her body around with a gathering force, and brought the cue from behind her like a broadsword - the way a Viking marauder would in the long ago of Scotland. The wooden blade made a thunderous crack into the side of the big man's knee, the cue splitting apart."
Mary's passion for finding her father is only equaled by her determination to save the weak who, much like herself, have limited choices when facing violence. And so her very nature inevitably becomes linked to two very special people who enter her life on the run and who create a double mystery for her to pursue. True to her helpful nature, Mary Jane feels compelled to assist; and that action in turn will transform her own life as she becomes absorbed in a deadly manhunt, determined to save the innocents she's stumbled upon and, ultimately, herself.
Mary Jane feels like an unknown: while she makes efforts in life, she largely feels her achievements are too little . or so her conscious says. Her decision to search out an absent father who changed her life through his actions is what results in the unexpected: the discovery of a man and a little girl hiding out because they have seen too much.
Now, some notes on this novel's unusual roots: they were inspired by the author's infatuation with movies and with the songs of Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow. Parts of this story actually came to him in a series of flashback-like scenes which he dutifully penned as they came; but it was McLachlan's music that prompted a flood of inspiration prompted by a realization that each line of one of her songs described one of the scenes Randall Kenneth Drake was already writing.
And it was Morisette's song 'Mary Jane' and 'You Learn' combined with Crow's lyrics in 'Am I Getting Through' which both contributed to the character of Mary Jane Chevalier. Listen to this music for further insights into that protagonist and her origins - at the risk of gaining advance insights into where the plot is going. In fact - listening to the music of all three as background to reading provides a kind of multimedia experience that any singular song, artist or the book alone couldn't impart.
The scenes originated with a story Drake stumbled upon in a bar, of an abandoned child left by her mother in front of the 'best house she would like to live in'. And so psychological and physical abandonment are one element in a novel that weaves a complicated story line powered by a woman who is strong, but believes herself to be weak. It's unusual to find a strong female heroine in a novel but Mary Jane IS that heroine, fighting for the weak and making a difference not just in her world, but in the worlds of others.
To add a dose of complexity, the protagonists all hold names indicative of their underlying roles in the story line: thus Delphia acts as an oracle and seer, Chevalier is actually a knight in disguise, and Mary Jane (much to the reader's surprise) embodies ALL these qualities, exhibited during the course of her quest.
It's all about a quest involving 'finding an angel', fantasies designed to cope with soul-threatening encounters, issues of death and values in life, and an epic quest disguised as a search for meaning. In this case not only does Mary Jane find her cause and meaning from life, but events come full circle in posing an angelic presence for Sera, the little girl who needs rescuing.
Saving the Innocents is also about preparing for battle, caring for self and strangers alike, and what motivates the deepest of emotions: "All her life she had wanted to be noticed - to love and be loved - to be someone's champion. The answers had come from the most unexpected sources. Nick, Delphia, Jack, and Sera. An ex-fireman, a crippled, blind woman . . . an odd, devoted, loyal man - and a little girl."
As protagonists join the story and begin their dance of interaction and influence, readers are treated to much more than a mystery or crime story: it's a story of courage, survival against all odds, and revelations that change everyone involved. The heart and soul of Saving the Innocents lies in Mary Jane's choices and determination which create a true heroine's journey in which Mary Jane's emotions and observations act as a driving force behind an epic quest for salvation that spills from the personal to (ultimately) an entire circle of characters.
Any looking for a novel that wraps its reader in a cloak of complexity and warmth will find Saving the Innocents filled with satisfying twists, turns, and protagonist interactions that create scenarios of understanding, connection and, ultimately, redemption.
The U.S. Review of Books---John E. Roper
The world is filled with hurting adults who were damaged as children, although most of them have learned to successfully hide their pain from those around them. Many are victims of abuse, neglect, or abandonment who have learned to cope in society but have never completely healed on the inside. Mary Jane, the heroine of Drake's gripping digital novel, remains deeply wounded from when her father left her behind at a circus when she was four years old. However, instead of being weakened by the experience, she has become stronger. Now as an adult, she is driven by two things: first, a desire to help others she encounters who are helpless or suffering and, second, to somehow find the father who deserted her so many years ago.
While Mary Jane is the chief protagonist in the story, she is hardly the only person who is damaged. For example, Drake introduces his audience to spunky little seven-year-old Sera and her protector, Jack, who live in an abandoned building and hide out from some rather unsavory characters. Readers also meet Nick, a bartender who has still not recovered from the betrayal of his former love. The author weaves all three storylines into a suspenseful plot filled with action, pathos, heartbreak, and love. Unlike so many independently published e-books, Drake's shows the marks of painstaking craftsmanship. On his website, the author recognizes that much of the success of his work lies in the fact that he took the time to have it edited by two seasoned professionals before it ever saw publication. The extra effort has paid off. This novel is fast-paced and entertaining from beginning to end.
Rating: 5/5 stars
How far would you go to protect someone you just met? If you sought the truth about your past – and found it – could you let it go and reinvent yourself?
Saving the Innocents by Randall Kenneth Drake seeks to answer these questions and more against the backdrop of a riveting tale of suspense. Mary Jane has spent years searching for the father that abandoned her, following tips from strangers in town after town. Her life will change, though, in the events of eight days that will force her to reevaluate her priorities and her perspective. In the process, she makes unlikely friends and discovers in herself a new purpose at the moment that her life seems to be falling apart.
While Mary Jane is running after her father, young Sera is running from her father. With dedicated guardian Jack at her side, Sera searches for the angel her mother always said would protect her. An unexpected meeting could give her what she’s been seeking – or drive her right into danger’s way.
The narrative flows thanks to a colorful cast of characters, including several archetypes with twists of their own. While some will inspire immediate feelings in the reader, both good and bad, readers will find themselves rooting for the personal journeys of others.
After an exciting beginning, the narrative pace slows for a number of expository chapters. However, the build-up is necessary to understand the central plot lines and offers some details that prove to be critical toward the end. Readers who stay committed through the slow parts will be well rewarded as the story unfolds to a riveting conclusion.
Saving the Innocents is an engaging story with dynamic characters and an inspiring message with which most readers can identify. Though I would obviously recommend it to suspense lovers, I am certain that readers of nearly any genre could easily enjoy this wonderful book.
The IndieReader---K.J. Pierce
Mary Jane Chevalier is a woman on a mission to track down the father who abandoned her at a circus when she was four. She’s spent the past five years moving from place to place, finally landing in a town where he’s been sighted. As she continues her search, she runs afoul of Edgar Lairdman, a wealthy man who essentially owns the town, police and criminals alike. While avoiding the men Lairdman sends after her, she finds Sera and Jack hiding in an old hotel, and takes on the role of their protectors. As it turns out, they’re hiding from Lairdman, as well. As more information comes to light, Mary Jane puts the pieces together that culminate in a way no one could have foreseen.
Author Randall Kenneth Drake has created a strong and compelling tale that examines the theme of innocence and what happens when that innocence is lost. At play are the long-lasting consequences, regardless of whether the loss came about by physical or emotional abuse or abandonment. Some characters use it ultimately for good, others for ill, but all of the characters in SAVING THE INNOCENTS work from a damaged place.
Drake has done a fantastic job of crafting characters that are multi-faceted and plausible with not a one-dimensional stereotype in sight. None of the characters are wholly bad or wholly good regardless of whether they’re the hero(ine) or the villain, and their backstories are woven through the text so it’s understood how they arrived at their current place in life. The novel does begin a tad slowly, and it’s difficult to keep track of what’s going on until the storylines converge, but once they do, the pace evens out and moves along quickly and the reader will find it difficult to put down.
Despite the horror abuse causes, SAVING THE INNOCENTS is ultimately an uplifting tale, and readers will find themselves fascinated by the journey of choices to make peace with their damaged beginnings.