Or, Why I Won't Forgive Sinner
Like a lazy Sunday afternoon is to a long work week, so picking up a popcorn novel is to trudging through dense, intellectual books. The reader wants something succinct, fresh and satisfying to clear the brain. It was with this intent that I bought Ted Dekker’s Sinner, published one year ago this month.
The prolific Dekker is renowned among Christian authors for his engaging, sometimes alarming fiction plots that keep readers on the edge of their seats, as well as for his wide fan base. He has written several best-selling series and has seen two of his thrillers (Thr3e in 2006 and House in 2008) made into films.
Sinner completes Dekker’s three-part Paradise series, in which each book connects to the others but can stand alone. It seems to be relatively unfamiliar to the reading public, based on conversations I’ve had with a few self-proclaimed Dekker fans. That surprised me. I was equally surprised by the fact that Barnes and Noble oh-so-temptingly marked down the book to $5.95. Attractive hardcover, popular fiction author...and dramatic price drop. Was no one reading Sinner?
The premise—a nation-shaping battle between good and evil involving four characters imbued with special powers—lured me. I was interested in seeing how Dekker fused modern Christian concerns with his sensational storytelling. I paid the six bucks and settled down for a relatively quick read.
I was pleased at how naturally Sinner establishes its world and characters. Granted, the book is set in modern America, so the modern American reader requires no orientation in culture beyond learning of the socio-political changes that comprise the source of conflict. Dekker does a credible job of taking current evangelical fears about the dangers of pluralism and turning them into a frightening reality: the suppression and indictment of free speech in the name of “tolerance.”
In addition, even though I haven’t read the preceding books, Showdown and Saint, I had no problem getting to know the basic personality and background of protagonists Billy Rediger and Darcy Lange. I appreciate recapping skills in an author.
The stand-alone nature of the book posed a significant problem, however, and one that I can’t seem to get over. I found the characters fairly insipid. It’s not that Dekker didn’t give them distinct and memorable personality traits, but I felt as if the traits had been declared rather than organically revealed (particularly those of the main female character, Darcy). This held true at both introductions and turning points—even when a person underwent rapid change, it was so rapid and complete as to be unbelievable. There was little overall character development, which made the people seem two-dimensional, and left me feeling disconnected from the story.
As a believer in God and, consequently, in good and evil, I had hoped to be not only connected with, but inspired by, Sinner. I admit that the extremely black-and-white (in this case, white) nature of the hero, Johnny Drake, made me ponder how seriously I take my own faith and how much dignity and safety I’d be willing to sacrifice for it. This contemplation lasted a few days, for which I was grateful.
However, I most enjoy books that make their point without being preachy, and Sinner is not one of them. Dekker could have told a solid, God-centered story without putting so much emphasis on sending a big message. The overly-emotional appeal sapped my enjoyment of the book, as I felt tugged between serious mode and, well, popcorn novel mode.
Upon finishing the book, I found that my “lazy Sunday afternoon” had become one of those afternoons of lofty plans that, at the end of the day, never happened.
Dekker has done much better; I suggest putting Sinner aside and going for one of his books that has safely stayed the same price.
This review was first published at blogcritics!