Friday, April 29

The Priest's Graveyard - a review

The Priest’s Graveyard by Ted Dekker

The Priest’s Graveyard is the latest book in which I think of as his ‘serial killer novels.’ Specifically, these are the novels published through Center Street with a plot heavily involving some sort of serial killer. I liked Boneman’s Daughters and thought The Bride Collector was pretty decent. Then again, I didn’t like Immanuel’s Veins (his latest novel until now) and thought Green was a weak entry into the Circle series (these are the only other Dekker books I’ve reviewed so far). So where does The Priest’s Graveyard fall?

The Priest’s Graveyard is the story of Danny and Renee. Renee is a young woman with a troubled life, one that includes drug addiction and abuse. While running from someone trying to killer her, she rescued by a man named Lamont, who quickly becomes her angel. Though a bit quirky and dealing with more than a mild case of OCD, Lamont takes Renee in and cares for her, helping her over her addiction. Renee falls in love with him and they marry. But something terrible happens, and Lamont disappears. Renee suspects Lamont’s corrupt business partner – Bourque.

Danny is a priest, also with a terrible past in war torn Bosnia. But he’s not a normal priest. He’s a priest who seeks to bring the worst of humanity to justice, which usually results in their death. He doesn’t go after petty criminals. He goes after those who will likely never receive prosecution in any other way. Then his path crosses with Renee. He sees the cruelty she was subjected to in her early life and the pain that was caused when Lamont was torn out of her life. Together perhaps they can rid the world of the monster responsible.

As far as the story is concerned, this is probably one of Dekker’s freshest approaches to a common theme/idea. One, the man who fills the role of the serial killer is one of the protagonists. Normally the serial killer is the one trying to either kill or emotionally harm the protagonist, but here he is working with Renee, the other protagonist.

Also, Dekker usually has ‘villain chapters’ in his book, which allow insight into the mind of the villain. Except for a few short times when we view of the henchmen of the villain, we never actually get inside the villain’s head like we usually do, which allows our imagination to do the rest. I really liked this aspect, partially because it meant the villain didn’t get some pseudo-philosophical/twisted religious catchphrase for me to get sick of hearing repeated over and over again.

Most Dekker stories are completely told in third person narrative. This book alternates between first and third. Renee’s side of the story tends to be first person, and Danny’s tends to be third. When they are together, it sometimes mixes, not when there is first person narrative it is always from Renee’s perspective.

And what about the twist? If you’ve read anything by Ted Dekker you know that there is nearly always some sort of twist at the end. Some are shocking, and some aren’t, but very few of his stories are without one. Overall the twist in this novel was very strong. I was able to guess a small element of it, but there ended up being much more than I expected, which was a pleasant surprise. It also felt like it flowed well in the story. Sometimes Dekker’s twist completely took me out of the story (Skin) and other times the magnified the story immensely (Thr3e). I would say on that scale, this one is closer to Thr3e, though not quite as good. There were a few unbelievable elements in twist, but I won’t spoil it for you as they were fairly minor.

There are some structural problems I have with The Priest’s Graveyard. The prologue is set after the story has already taken place. Renee approaches a priest for a confessional where she wants to tell her story and Danny’s, to see if they can be forgiven. This is where we learn Danny’s history in Bosnia. My first issue with this is that it takes away some of the surprise element. Now I know Renee survives. In Dekker novels, sometimes a main character dies while others live. But here I’m being told up front that Renee lives. Also, the rest of the story seems that it should naturally be completely from Renee’s perspective, since it is her telling the confessions. Yet the whole novel jumps back and forth between first and third person narratives. In the third person narratives concerning Danny we also get insight into Danny’s thoughts. How does Renee know all this? At the beginning of the prologue Renee gives the priest a confession written by Danny. This explains how we know his thoughts – but it’s also the first person. The rest of the novel isn’t like this. Either the prologue should’ve been cut, or the point of view for the rest of novel should’ve been consistent. During the times I was most caught up in the story I usually forgot about this, but whenever the story slowed or the point of view changed I was reminded of it.

Still, this is overall a pretty strong entry into Dekker’s growing library.  Despite some of the problems I had with it, some of the fresh approaches to the story helped elevate it above some of his other recent novels.

4/5 stars

There was one other element I had minor problems with, but there could be MINOR SPOILERS here, so I’m putting it after the rating so those who don’t want spoilers don’t read it on accident.

At the beginning of the story Renee is running from Cyrus, a man who she thinks is going to kill her. When Lamont disappears, she presumes him dead and goes to find the man who she thinks killed him. She is forced to return to the town where Cyrus lives and she worries about being found. But this worrying only really occurs in the first half of the book. After a while she seems to forget about him. We never meet him, and aside from the beginning, the most Renee does is think about him. There is no resolution to his story line. We know Renee survives because of the prologue, yet at the end of the book I still don’t know what’s happening with Cyrus. Is he alive? Renee never had the opportunity to confront Cyrus, the man who actually pushed her into this world in the first place.

How about you? Have you read The Priest’s Graveyard? Like? Dislike?
Discuss below.

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