Genre: Suspense, Thriller
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: September 2008
Reviewed by Josh Olds
QUICK HIT – Dekker tackles the issue of free speech and religious tolerance in a not-so-distant future. Project Showdown lives on as Billy and Darcy begin to exhibit powers given to them through the Books.
Billy Rediger has spent the last dozen years running from his past. It was he who wrote Marsuvees Black into existence and nearly destroyed himself and Paradise in the process. His attempt to soothe his troubled mind through gambling and booze hasn’t paid off and he finds himself in severe debt to an angry crime boss. But the tables turn when Billy suddenly discovers he has the ability to read minds.
Darcy Lange has also spent a dozen years trying to forget what havoc her thirteen year old self brought upon Project Showdown. Life is humdrum and Darcy is apathetic until one day she manifests the ability to persuade others. Almost immediately, Billy and Darcy find themselves reunited and under the care of a CIA agent named Kinnard — reunited because Billy felt the sudden urge to connect with Darcy after being reminded of her, and under the care of Kinnard because he knew of Project Showdown and was anticipating their abilities.
Meanwhile, the outside world is falling apart. Religion in the United States has become increasingly diverse, with more and more claiming no religion at all. Tolerance has become the mantra: everyone’s beliefs are equal and no one way is exclusive. But that mantra is beginning to be challenged. Religious-based hate crime is on the rise, with the lynching of Christians leading to a full-scale riot. Billy and Darcy are called in by the government to use their abilities to quell the crowd. In the middle of this are Katrina Kivi and Johnny Drake. Kat has been quite the teenage rebel and example of religious intolerance. A right hook to the face to a Muslim schoolmate landed her in community service and at the feet of Johnny Drake. Johnny takes in the young girl and through his own powers opens her eyes to the truth.
The religious situation continues to deteriorate, leading to the United States Congress—under influence from Billy and Darcy—to amend the First Amendment to outlaw hate speech such as claims of religious exclusivity. Johnny, Kat, and the residents of Paradise don’t intend to follow any such rules, boldly proclaiming their intentions to preach salvation through Christ alone. The final battle begins to rage as it pits one town against the nation, but even more importantly one man against himself—or one man against his creation. Marsuvees Black is back and he’s been manipulating things all along, baby.
As much as it pains me to say it, Sinner was a disappointment to me. Not in the theme, because that’s where Dekker excels, but literally everywhere else. The plot is simply discombobulated—you’ll notice I took 500 words to simply try to give a basic setup. Billy and Darcy have these amazing powers, yet their use of them extends to dispersing a crowd, showing off, and influencing a Senate vote. Honestly not that thrilling. While Saint portrayed Strople/Johnny’s power through assassinations, Billy and Darcy get government meetings.
Kat Kivi’s character, while dear to Dekker’s heart, was extraneous to this story. I know Ted’s reasons for writing her, I know of her significance and understand how she personalizes the story, but this is a Paradise novel and introducing a new character didn’t work for me. It’s almost like, in trying to write everything, Dekker spread the story too thin. The theme of Sinner is poignant, relevant, and powerful, but that all gets lost amid the story. It’s as if Dekker really wanted to write on freedom and speech and religious tolerance as well as the continuation of Project Showdown and mashed them into one novel instead of two. The primary theme didn’t seem to fit the characters.
What did work was the secondary theme of Billy’s fight against Marsuvees Black. This is what the story should have been about. There was the creation of evil (condemnation) and redemption through sacrifice (justification) in Showdown and the formation of spiritual identity (sanctification) in Saint. Sinner should have been about Billy and Darcy’s attempt to ultimately defeat evil as incarnated in Marsuvees Black (glorification). Oh, that’s a storyline, but it’s buried under the equally good but, in my opinion, misplaced theme of the destructiveness of modern tolerance. Billy does have to come to grip with the fact that Marsuvees Black is, in fact, a personification of the evil in his own heart, and that’s a highlight of the book.
I find it really difficult to criticize Ted’s writing because he’s so often been so good. Sinner is one of three of his novels that have left me feeling unsatisfied (feel free to take guesses in the comments below). The problem isn’t the theme—I love the theme and it’s an important one to discuss; it’s not the characters—they’re compelling characters and Marsuvees Black still stands in my mind as one of the greatest fictional villains of all time; and it’s not even the writing—it’s not great but not terrible, either. The problem is the way things fit together. Too much theme, not enough story, and this is not the story these characters needed to tell. Dekker fans need to read this to round out the Paradise Trilogy and flesh out their knowledge of The Books of History Chronicles, but this isn’t a book I’d point a first-time reader to. Sorry, Ted, I respect your writing talent, but this one didn’t work for me.
Agree? Disagree? Tell me why in the comments. I’ve asked this question to various people all week with interesting results. I want your opinion.
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