Book Review: What Happened After Mr Jones Died by Paul Wreyford

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Updated February 23, 2019

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Mr Jones didn’t have a good Christmas. He died.

Not to worry – he’s a Christian, so he’s going to heaven… isn’t he? Mr Gilmore, his guardian angel, thinks so… but Demon Dumas doesn’t.

The matter is referred to a celestial court, where a jury of twelve dead men and women must decide whether there is enough evidence to prove that Mr Jones is a Christian.

What follows is the most astonishing case in the history of the afterlife.

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What Happened After Mr Jones Died by Paul Wreyford
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So what happens after we die? It's a fundamental question of the human condition, we all know that our time on this earth will come to an end and we want to know if there is anything after, or is there just nothing. In society there is an increasing awareness, and questioning, of the established idea of heaven and hell of the western-Christian tradition which has in recent years led to series like "The Good Place" being developed for Netflix (and there are other series on the way for other TV channels exploring similar themes too). So this book "What Happened After Mr Jones Died" may have been published at exactly the right time.

It's Christmas, while everyone in the shared house waits for the Coronation Street double episode, Bill decides that it is time for a game of Charades, the Christmas classic. Gordon settles into his chair determined to keep out of the game that he loathes and feels a little odd - falling into what will turn out to be a deep and eternal slumber. Suddenly there is a form completely dressed in black who has appeared and introduces himself as Death, reeling from this shock it isn't long before another visitor appears. This intruder introduces himself as Angel Gilmore here to accompany Gordon to the pearly  gates for an audience with his Master and the rubber-stamping of his entry into Heaven. Just as they are about to leave, a third character appears claiming that it will be his duty to accompany Gordon as he is one of theirs. The Demon known as Dumas believes that his master has a claim on Gordon's eternal destiny and has been sent to collect him. Angels hardly ever make mistakes and this leads to an argument and a dispute that needs to be settled. In the meantime Gordon finds himself in a cloud-based waiting room with 4 other people who died in the area at the same time as he did.

From here the book takes some interesting twists and turns and eventually Dumas ends up challenging whether Gordon was ever truly a Christian in a courtroom before an Archangel judge and a jury of 12 dead people which happens to include Nelson and Mary Queen of Scots. They have to decide if there is enough evidence to say without a shadow of a doubt that Gordon is a Christian. Gordon meanwhile is waiting to wake up and find out that this is a Scrooge-like Christmas Carol situation, which, unfortunately for him, it isn't.

For a book that is dealing with quite a heavy subject it is well balanced, many of the situations are written for humour. The fact that there is an anthropomorphic personification of Death in this book is a great start. This character owes a fair bit to the way that Terry Pratchett has written Deaths character in the past. This Death does not speak in capital letters and likes to quote a lot of people who have written about him through literature and poetry. He also sets up a couple of the running jokes that will appear throughout the story. Angel Gilmore is a slapstick character who comically mistimes everything, forgetting that he has the abilities of heaven, often forgetful of other things like his briefcase and possibly incompetent, but could he have actually made a mistake and Gordon isn't truly a Christian after all. Then there is Dumas, a character with a flair for the dramatic, laying out logical arguments about the lack of the ability of someone who calls themselves a Christian to even keep their own promises.

For the most part this book reads really well and I confess that I struggled to put it down, even though I had an inkling how the story might end. I don't want to give the ending away, but I was very wrong about some of what happens. The humour is light and there is plenty to keep you entertained away from the central questions of the book. On the more serious points the book does a great job of holding up a mirror to the main character to see how his faith affected his life and this may well bring some conviction for us too. It's a clever twist that we can laugh along with the humour but also have the prick of conscience and conviction at the same time. C.S. Lewis brought us some great material about the tricks of temptation in "The Screwtape Letters" and it is this kind of tradition that this book uses to show us how life can convince us we are doing OK, and that we are too busy to remember our promises to God on a daily basis.

This is a well written and well argued court case, along with some interesting characters. One thing I did notice as I read the book quite quickly, the author has a nervous tick of reminding the reader of some things that are previously established. As I read this I felt that this book would work well as a minimal stage play, I could very easily see the waiting room scenes played out among a few actors on stage. This book isn't too heavy or preachy but does contain the truths of the Gospel in a way that is appealing, so this could be something that you could give to someone who is interested in how it is decided who goes to Heaven or Hell, equally you could give this book to a new or established Christian and I think that there are things that would be learnt and could be challenging to both of those groups of people. This is a good, clean and funny story with some important challenges to the Christian and to those who don't believe and is definitely a highly recommended read.

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