Also by this author: The Promise, The Drummer Boy, Sinner, Green, The Dream Traveler's Quest, Into the Book of Light, The Curse of Shadownman, The Garden and the Serpent, The Final Judgment, Millie Maven and the Bronze Medallion
Series: Paradise Trilogy #2
Published by Thomas Nelson on October 2006
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Suspense
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"We call you Saint."
The name ignited a light in Carl's mind. Saint. He'd been covertly recruited for Black Ops and given his life to the most brutal kind of training any man or woman could endure. He was here because he belonged here. To the X Group.
An assassin. The most effective killer in the world. And yet...Carl Strople struggles to retain fleeting memories that betray an even more ominous reality. He's been told part of the truth - but not all of it.
Invasive techniques have stripped him of his identity and made him someone new - for this he is grateful. But there are some things they can't take from him. The love of a woman, unbroken loyalties to his past, the need for survival.
From the deep woods of Hungary to the streets of New York, Saint takes you on a journey of betrayal in a world of government cover-ups, political intrigue, and one man's search for the truth. In the end, that truth will be his undoing.
Who am I? Where do I come from? To whom do I answer? Why am I here? How to I embrace and use my talents and gifts? – These are all universal questions but they’re also specific to Carl Strople, the assassin who knows only what has been planted into his mind by the X Group. The X Group is a top-secret mercenary organization run by Laszlo Kalman. With his partner Agotha, the two destroy humans and make them killers. Their hope is simple: take away enough of a man and just maybe you can make him do things humans weren’t meant to do. But Carl Strople insists on discovering his true identity, and, through his training and missions, receives just enough hints that his view of reality is skewed to keep questioning.
Meanwhile, David Abraham—former leader of Project Showdown—has worked his way into the position of spiritual adviser and friend to the President. When the world presses the United States to support a resolution that would disarm the Middle East, only Abraham reacts to point out the folly of disarming Israel in the middle of countries dedicated to her destruction. But more than this, David Abraham knows it is folly because his son has seen it. A dozen years prior, Samuel Abraham had been forever affected by the events of Showdown. The redemption of Paradise left him with unique abilities given to him by the Books.
The storylines converge when Strople is commanded to kill the President. In that effort, he discovers a little more about his past…and his ties to Project Showdown. Strople’s journey of self-discovery is thwarted by fellow X Group assassin Dale Crompton, known as the Englishman, who has ulterior motives of his own. No one is exactly who they claim to be, secrets abound, and, in the end, Strople must embrace his true identity and gifts if he is to survive.
With a fast-paced plot and adrenaline-laced twists, combined with Dekker’s signature spiritual themes, Saint is a compelling thriller that will keep you turning pages. Dekker challenges readers, especially Christians, to be radically affected by the faith they claim to have. Dekker writes through his character David Abraham:
“Superhero? Aren’t we all? Isn’t that what all men, women, and children of faith are? Isn’t that what Project Showdown was all about? We, the ostracized few, given power to aid the very society that fears us?”
Saint is a book to be savored if only for its themes. In a sense, we are all Carl Strople, seeking to find our identities in a world trying to define and control us. Dekker powerfully captures a poignant theme and plays it out marvelously in his novel. Consider it once more, this time from the lips of Samuel Abraham:
“Once born into childlike faith, brimming with belief, typical people begin to lose their faith. Society mocks them. Their friends smirk. They come to change the world, but over time the world changes them. Soon they forget who they were; they forget the faith they once had. Then one day someone tells them the truth, but they don’t want to go back, because they’re comfortable in their new skin. Being a stranger in this world is never easy.”
Saint continues the Paradise Trilogy some twelve years after the events of Showdown. The monastery has been disbanded. The kids have been placed into families. The books are gone. But four of the kids—Billy, Darcy, Johnny, and Samuel—have been forever changed. Saint’s weakness is its attempt to both integrate itself into the events of Showdown while remaining a standalone novel. In attempting to straddle the fence and offer both, Dekker falls a bit short on either side. To have no knowledge of Showdown is to be completely lost amid the book’s primary and most important plot twist. Yet, in the attempt to be a standalone, Saint doesn’t offer enough on the dozen years following Showdown. Many questions remain vague or unanswered. Dekker has to really work to make the novel a Paradise novel. In some ways, I get it. As an author, you don’t want the barrier to entry be “Read these ten novels or else you can’t understand the eleventh,” but at the same time, you either have to go all-in on your world-building or not.
With a few exceptions, the connections to Showdown seem written over an already-completed novel, as if Dekker took an established story and retrofitted it to be a Paradise novel. I don’t know if that was the case or not. Ironically, in a novel about struggling to find your true identity, Saint struggles to find its true identity. Dekker’s characterization lacks the depth one might expect of the second novel in a series that revisits established characters. Not enough work is done to show how the dozen years after Showdown has affected the citizens of Paradise. Even a main character, Johnny Drake, doesn’t seem like the same person he was in Showdown.
In the end, you’re left with the paradoxical thoughts that Saint is a better standalone novel than as anything that explains or furthers any story threads from the overarching Books of History Chronicles. But, read it without at least some knowledge the world it’s set in and some of the most impactful moments will fall flat. This could have been a great standalone story; this could have been a compelling BoHC novel. By attempting both, Saint moves from exceptional to just fine. It’s engaging and fun, and keeps the pages turning and the mind thinking—but as a follow-up to Showdown, it just doesn’t hit.