Book Review: Benefit of the Doubt by Les Cowan

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Updated January 07, 2018
Book Review: Benefit of the Doubt by Les Cowan

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David Hidalgo, a bilingual Scot, and pastor of an independent church in Madrid, is doing what he can to pick up the threads of his life and ministry after his wife is murdered by drug dealers objecting to the local impact of the growing church. Back in Edinburgh he finds friendship, disturbing and unlooked for romance, and then mortal danger as the same drug barons invade his territory once more. When a young girl is abducted, David knows he must set aside his doubts and act...whatever this might cost him.

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Benefit of the Doubt by Les Cowan
(Updated: January 08, 2018)
Overall rating 
David Hidalgo is a part-time Pastor of a small independent evangelical church in Edinburgh, he was invited by the church and his friends Juan and Alicia, who attend the church when they heard that he was leaving Spain after a particular painful time in his life. This Pastor has a past, and the first part of this book flicks back to some of that time to give us an understanding of the character and how this will reflect on the events in the book. David grew up in Edinburgh after his parents escaped Franco's reign, but after Franco died, David returned and became a very successful business man. The story of his journey to faith is intriguing because initially he rejects the evangelical message that he hears, but the change he see's in his wife, and the Pastor of the church that she attends, convince him that there is something different. Eventually David is a key founder of a evangelical church in Spain called Warehouse 66, which has a massive outreach into the communities of the poor, and the drug addicts and sees people turning away from that lifestyle and successfully rehabilitating. While this is a great success it comes at a great personal cost that leaves David questioning everything that he has believed about God.

As David moves into a new flat he never really settles, that is until he meets Gillian who comes to the Spanish Conversation class that David is teaching to help bring in an income. She is not a believer which provides a bit of an issue for him, but after attending Jaun's restaurant after a class things take a sudden twist and David finds himself, despite his reservations, pulled into a mystery that he doesn't want. The Granddaughter of a lady from his Church has left home and it soon becomes clear that she is with the drug kingpin who happens to be someone that David has had unpleasant experiences with before.

There are plenty of books that fit under the 'Christian Fiction' genre, and many of them, like this one fit into the Crime genre. They often have a character who is a Christian or some element of active faith, or there is a link to the church in the mystery, but many of them fail to actually enter any dialogue about life and faith. Those that do tend to lose the element of drama and intrigue and can become over-burdened with laying out an apologetic case for belief. I am pleased to say that this novel walks the fine line, giving believable characters and situations, whilst providing real drama and intrigue and different views of faith.

The main character here, David Hidalgo is questioning his faith and everything that he has taught in his years leading a large vibrant church in Spain. The reason is deeply personal and it's good to have a character who is meant to be a leader, and have a calling, but having had everything pulled away from under him so much that he isn't sure where he stands any longer. This provides a fair bit of tension in the story, I am trying to not give too many spoilers, but David hasn't given up his faith completely, he's just not sure that he believes it all any more. The fact that even in this period, through the events in the story, others around him are beginning journey's of faith makes him, in some ways, feel even worse. At the same time there is the solid faith of others around him helping him move forward.

Away from the faith aspects of the book this is a tensely plotted story which leaps forward and backwards. It is set, for the start in modern day Edinburgh, with leaps back to Madrid in the late 70's before a trip to modern Spain as the plot thickens and everything comes to a head. Les Cowan has clearly done his research on all the locations and the environments feel entirely lived-in with knowledge that someone had lived there would know. It's not just the environment but also the food which leaps out from the page, it's not quite of Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat) levels of engaging the food-senses but there is certainly enough local cuisine to get the mouth watering.

For all of this environment and scene setting the story flows nicely and feels real, there is real tension and danger for all the characters throughout and the drug baron is an ever-present threat. Each part of the plot has been thought out and it feels real, with enough information being given at the right time to the reader, but not necessarily to the character who needs it!

This is well-written and thoroughly enjoyable in every twist and turn of the story. David Hidalgo is a great character and I expect to see more of him, my only complaint with the book is the ending. Everything seems resolved and finished - but then there is another twist and a horrible cliff-hanger. Turning the page reveals that the next book in the series won't be here until May 2019 (although the website says May 2018). Les Cowan, how could you?

Honestly, this is the first Christian book that I have read in a long time that takes a serious discussion about faith, but doesn't bog itself down. It's also the first Christian novel that I could really see being made into a film of some sort. If the likes of Affirm films are looking for a way to bring a Christian film to the wider audience I would suggest they need a plot like this one! There is faith, romance, mystery, crime, guns and so much now just the long wait for the next instalment!

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