Crystal Rhodes’ debut novel, Sin, focuses on Rev. Nedra Davis, a minister in an inner-city parish in Oakland, California, and Sinclair “Sin” Reasoner, a mysterious and very handsome man who crosses her path when he tries to get help for two young boys being neglected by their drug-addicted mother.
Nedra doesn’t realize that Sin is the young man she tutored many years ago in a GED program. Sin knows he must stay away from Nedra, whom he has never forgotten, for her own safety, but circumstances keep bringing the two together despite enormous baggage on both sides. Each time Sin sees Nedra, he tells himself that this will be the last time – because of his mysterious business. Nedra believes that she must avoid Sin in order to preserve her nunlike reputation and, by association, the reputation of her church.
Nedra is a crusader who has organized her church to strike against the drugs so prevalent in her community – the newspapers have dubbed her “the Anti-Drug Queen.” She feels great pressure to live a blameless life because of the double pressure of being a female minister, and has mixed feelings about her attraction to Sin. One of Nedra’s jealous parishioners will stop at nothing to discredit her, and the area’s drug lords are furious about Nedra’s effect on their profits – furious enough to put out a contract on Nedra’s life.
This book feels realistic, and Rhodes does an admirable job of conveying suspense. Why does Sin have nightmares? What is his mysterious job? She also develops varied characters for her protagonists to deal with – the two children who need Sin’s help, Nedra’s best friends, and Sin’s business colleagues. She also effectively explores Nedra’s devotion to her flock and her difficulty in recognizing that she has a right to her own needs and desires, a problem so common in the helping professions.
Unfortunately, I cannot give this book an unconditional recommendation, mostly because of some first-time author flaws. Too often the narrative tells rather than shows, meaning that several key scenes, including a heart-to-heart between Nedra and her girlfriends and Nedra’s confrontation with her chief rival, are only glimpsed from the outside. Then too, important characters periodically disappear from the narrative and reappear when it is convenient. In addition, a too-rushed conclusion and a too-perfect epilogue distracted from my enjoyment of the tale.
Still, this is a high C+. While I felt that Sin did not quite live up to its potential, I strongly believe that Crystal Rhodes is an author to watch. If she brings readers more intimately into her next book, it will be something indeed.