Code of Silence and Back Before Dark by Tim Shoemaker

Cover of code of Silence

A heart-pounding mystery series, with hidden twists and turns at every corner and a powerful message.

Note: this is a guest review. See below for more information!

Code of Silence Series by Tim Shoemaker. Zonderkidz.

  • Code of Silence: Living a Lie comes with a Price. 2013 (reprint). 348 pages.
  • Back Before Dark: Sometimes Rescuing a Friend From the Darkness Means Going in After Him. 2014 (reprint). 384 pages.

Reading Level: Teens, ages 12-15

Recommended For: Ages 12 and up; note considerations below.

The Code of Silence series, written by Tim Shoemaker, has been recognized for its suspenseful plots and genuine characters. Shoemaker uses his writing to display the power of truth and love in disastrous circumstances. Despite these underlying themes, and distinctly Christian worldview, Shoemaker manages to make his point without coming across as cheesy or preachy. Although these books have good “lessons,” they come with a crazy story, and you don’t come away from the book feeling that the book had a “good moral.” Instead, you come away feeling that you have read a powerful book, well-written and scary, but laced with truth.

cover of back before dark

13-year-old Cooper MacKinnon has a good life. He goes to church, has friends, loving parents, and a grandfather-figure named Frank who runs the best monster-shake spot in town. He’s got it all sorted, until one night, while he’s slurping down the dregs of a shake, men brake into Frank n’ Steins, Frank’s restaurant. Cooper and his friends, Hiro and Gordy, hide behind a counter while the men corner Frank, demanding he hands over money. Frank realizes who the thieves must be, and therefore, he must not survive. Cooper watches as Frank’s neck is broken and he slips into a coma. As Cooper escapes, one of the robbers grabs his house keys and promises to hunt him down and kill his family if he ever tells a soul what he saw. This scene occurs within the first three chapters of Code of Silence, but the book doesn’t slow down there. Code of Silence is action-packed and thrilling, as Cooper, Gordy and Hiro search for the robbers, but more than that, it asks its readers an important question. What do you do when telling the truth could mean death for everyone you love? In Code of Silence, Shoemaker grapples with the meaning of truth and the weight of a lie. Cooper believes he must keep the details about that fated night at Frank n’ Stein’s under lock and key, in order to save his family. Despite this, he knows that keeping silent means that Frank will never see justice. Along with the help of his friends, Cooper works to solve the mystery, but most importantly to uncover truth.

While Code of Silence focuses on being witness to a terrible crime, Back Before Dark brings danger even closer to Cooper. In the very first chapter, Gordy, Cooper’s best friend and cousin, gets kidnapped after attempting to settle a bet and help someone out. The story follows Cooper as he wrestles with guilt about Gordy’s abduction.—He could have done more. He could have remembered the license plate. He could have stopped the predator.— Throughout the novel, Cooper desperately attempts to recover Gordy, in reckless plan after reckless plan. Cooper finally realizes that, while his searching is to save Gordy, he also is doing it for himself. He is trying to make himself feel better by throwing himself into danger. He realizes that guilt is not powerful enough to save someone because it is self-centered; only love is. As the 24-hour mark, the 48-hour mark, and finally the 72-hour mark goes by, Gordy’s relatives, classmates and friends give up hope – but not Cooper. He knows Gordy is alive, and he will never stop looking for him. “Sometimes rescuing a friend from darkness… means going in after them.”

While these books can be scary, the truth that they bring is overwhelming, and they challenge the right things.

“I still don’t get why God allows bad things to happen to good people.”

“We live in a big, nasty world, Lunk. Bad things happen.” Hiro leaned toward him. “I don’t know why God allows some of the things he does.” She paused, like she was trying to find just the right words.

“But God is still in control, and I believe he has a plan.”

The main characters pray through their situations, but it doesn’t feel like it was forced or fake in order to write a “Christian book”. Throughout both these books, Cooper and his friends do some wild things, but the author makes it very clear that they aren’t “cool” or the right thing to do. The friends challenge each other over the truth and work through their sin. The Code of Silence series packs more than a punch, and challenges readers in ways unexpected for “mere” a middle grades novel.


  • Violence: In both of these books, the children are put in serious danger of both injury and on multiple occasions, death. Sensitive children might very well be alarmed and scared by this, especially as this danger is very present and intense throughout the majority of both books.
  • Sexuality/Sexual Assault: In Back Before Dark Hiro finds a list of all registered Sex Offenders in the area, believing that Gordy has been taken by one of them after no ransom call is made. Cooper and his friends then go and visit some of these houses, and are verbally abused by one sex offender (rough words, no sexual content). At the back of Back Before Dark is a section called “Protect Yourself from Being Abducted.” While this section can make some readers uncomfortable with all of the kidnapping stats (69 percent of attempted abductions involve a girl, etc.), it is an important section with good information to discuss with a parent.
  • Lying: In both books, Cooper purposefully deceives the police on numerous occasions and runs from the law. This is never displayed as okay, but is still worth mentioning.
  • In the author’s note in Back Before Dark, Shoemaker makes it clear that Cooper’s line — “Sometimes rescuing a friend from darkness… means going in after them” — has its limitations, and it is important for you to stay safe.
  • Below the Surface: The 3rd book in this series is called Below the Surface. We have not read/reviewed this title, but we assume it is similar to the first two in the series. That being said, we cannot vouch for its particular contents. As always, read discerningly!

Overall Rating: 4.75

  • Artistic Rating: 4.5
  • Worldview Rating: 5

Read more about our ratings here.

This is a guest post! We occasionally solicit book reviews for books we’ve read, but haven’t had time to review. This time, our guest reviewer is a teenager! Her name is Annalise, and we’re so thankful for her excellent review and insight into this fun series. We made only minor edits to the review, mostly tweaks to fit our format.

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Betsy Farquhar

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Southeast.

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