“The Rising,” by Lynn Chandler Willis, is the story of a baffling event that nobody – detectives, medical personnel, bystanders – can explain. A young child is found in an alley, apparently beaten to death. The crime scene is checked by a detective, and the lifeless, bloodied body is delivered to the hospital by ambulance.
After thirty minutes of testing for respiration, pulse, and brain wave activity, the ER physician pronounces the boy dead and has him moved to the morgue on a gurney. And yet, the next day, that same little boy walks into the morgue office with no bruises and no blood, wearing the toe tag on his foot, and asks to go to the bathroom.
The Homicide Detective covering the case, Ellie Saunders, saw that the boy was dead. Everybody at the hospital saw that the boy was dead. And, now thirty hours later, he’s not.
Saunders and her partner are called in to investigate the (now) assault. The child does not know who he is or what happened to him and the hospital is labeling this a Lazarus Syndrome case – very rare and usually only linked to people who have ‘come-back-to-life’ after an hour or two. Unheard of after this long.
Saunders becomes obsessed with finding the boy’s family as well as the person that hurt him so badly. She is horrified at the fact that anyone could have done this to the child, and (without giving away the plot) wants to protect him from further insult or injury. Roadblocks are placed in Saunders way at many turns and as this unusual story unfolds, we are drawn into not only the investigation, but an exploration of faith vs science.
The supporting characters are fully fleshed out; a likably wacky morgue attendant, an assortment of interesting colleagues, quirky locals, caring as well as flirtatious doctors, reluctant witnesses, a supposedly lost love, an outspoken aunt, and an estranged preacher father. Saunders herself is complex, mostly in control of her actions and emotions until the case triggers memories of her troubled past. Those memories drive her to bend a few rules in her tenacious pursuit of the truth.
Willis’ depiction of the child is perfect. She draws on her considerable research with her own delightful family, but there’s another layer here that many writers miss when creating the children in their books. The child’s relationships and personality develop in a natural way through “The Rising,” revealing a combination of shyness, intelligence, appropriate language and reactions. Johnny Doe puts up with the adults’ questions for a bit and then his attention turns to trucks and coloring. Spot-on writing that will tug at your heart and remind you of a child you know. Willis also taps into an understanding of the unspoken messages that children reveal in their play, and makes that a part of the mystery that Saunders must solve.
Along the way, Saunders must come to terms with her own loss of faith and how it has impacted her decisions. Discussions with friends and family are not always welcome. Then, two parallel storylines merge nicely with the Johnny Doe case and Willis brings us home with an action packed, satisfying ending.
It’s easy to see why “The Rising” won the 2013 Grace Award for Excellence in Faith-based Fiction in the mystery/romantic suspense/thriller category.
By the way, Johnny Doe’s fictional situation is an actual medical condition – Google ‘Lazarus Syndrome’ and read the real-life case studies.
Please visit www.lynnchandlerwillis.com for more information about Willis’ other books and upcoming events.