Just about a month ago I had my first introduction to Ted Dekker when I read Three. At that time I expended some effort in thinking about how much sin and evil it is proper for a Christian to portray in a story. Is it profitable for an author to spend so much time plotting a story that contains such great evil? And is it profitable for us to then read about these acts of violence and rebellion against God? I found that while Dekker may have towed a line, I don’t know that he crossed it. I quickly read another of his books, Blink and my concerns eased just a little bit.
As part of my long-weekend relaxation, I decided I would try one more of Dekker’s books. My wife had recently purchased Obsessed, his latest work. My concerns are now back stronger than ever.
Obsessed is a story about, and you may have guessed this, obsession. And I’m not talking about the overpriced scent by Calvin Klein either. As with many great thrillers, this one has two parallel plot lines, seperated by twenty years, that slowly begin to converge. I suppose that means that are not really parallel or they’d never meet. Anyways, the first tells the story of two Jewish women, Marth and Ruth, and their imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War. Their relationship with the camp’s commandant provides the basis for the story’s primary tale of obsession. The second story involves Stephen Friedman, an unassuming realtor who is dragged into a mystery by an obsessed murderer – the son of the commandant, who seeks to return to his father something that was taken from him long ago. You know how it goes. All sorts of characters are killed, safes are cracked, near-strangers fall in love and ordinary people act like Indiana Jones. It has everything we have come to expect from a good thriller. It is a page-turner and I was drawn right into it. I genuinely cared about the characters and wanted to know what was going to happen next. My wife was forced to make a couple of jokes about the title and its application to me when I showed a complete inability to put the book down.
The book seeks to answer the question of just how far a man will go to satisfy his thirst for the ultimate treasure. With Dekker’s other books, it becomes clear that beneath the surface of Obsessed is a spiritual metaphor – one about the lengths a man will go to seek and find the kingdom of God.
But the book wasn’t all good. As with his others works, Dekker seems to introduce characters quickly and at the beginning this can get a bit confusing. I had to force my way into the story, though only for the first four or five chapters. There were also a couple of throw-away characters and plot elements that were left hanging and never resolved. And some of the story was a little bit implausible. I can only roll my eyes when a man dressed as a woman escapes the notice of a person who is sworn to destroy him, despite talking directly to him while in drag. Unlikely at best. Meanwhile, the plot seems to spin a little out of control until by the end the reader hardly knows what to think or believe anymore. Perhaps there were one or two twists too many.
Of greater concern was the darkness of the evil in this story. It is one thing to portray an evil person, but when these characters are involved in satanic rituals, draining blood from their victims and drinking it, it seems that a line has been crossed, even if the deeds are portrayed with a minimum of detail. At some point should we not need to heed the apostle’s warning to “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret” (Ephesians 5:11,12)? At what point do we cease to even speak of the deeds done in darkness? I cannot say, but I do know that the sheer depravity of the deeds in this book made me uncomfortable, and I’m no prude. I thought back to when I used to read thrillers of this type and realized that many good authors have been able to develop “bad guys” without resorting to such evil deeds. Jeffrey Archer can develop an antagonist the reader learns to despise but without having the men shed a drop of blood. And so I wonder if it is really necessary to speak about such evil deeds or if a superb writer can build a strong character without them. Food for thought.
So while I very much enjoyed the story and can even hesitantly recommend it, I do so with a view to the caveats mentioned above. Do we need to portray such evil? At this point I just don’t know so will leave it to the reader to decide. In the meantime, I will look forward to Dekker’s next book, due in September of this year and trust that I will have clarified my position by that time.