Danny Hansen used to be a Priest. He would listen to people’s confessions, help some through their difficulties, and preach the gospel of God’s word the best way he knew how. He also used to be a murderer. Now he’s in prison, serving a fifty year term for the murder of two abusive men. He spends his days observing people (as he always did), listening to everyone’s troubles, and learning how to survive the prison system. He’s pretty much a model prisoner until he gets sent to a brand new type of prison. At Basal, he’s thrust into an unconventional system with a unique set of rules and a frightening set of consequences.
When Renee Gilmore, Danny’s girlfriend, receives a package that contains a bloody finger along with threats against Danny unless she acts on terrifying demands, the wheels are set into motion for a Ted Dekker thrill ride that literally grabs you by the throat and will not let go.
The Priest’s Graveyard was one of my favorite Dekker reads. I felt that the arguments, situations, and the final message of the book was one of the most powerful ways to present the gospel that I’d ever read. When I picked up The Sanctuary, it was with that odd mixture of excitement, curiosity and trepidation that one can only get from reading one of Ted’s novels. I never know exactly where he’s going to take me or how we’re going to get there and to be honest, sometimes that frightens me. There have been a couple of Ted’s books that have really not been my cup of tea. (This isn’t a surprise to anyone who has listened to previous interviews between Ted and me.)
This book straddled the line between the books that I really love and books that are too dark for me. There were moments of incredible overwhelming heaviness that made me pause and need to step away from the tale. It was too much for me. My brain didn’t want to comprehend some of what I was reading. At the same time, I was unable to put the book down for the excitement of figuring out where the next whiplash twist would be spinning my brain at breakneck speed. One thing that can be said about Dekker’s writing, no matter whether it’s heavy or light, is his brilliantly executed plots that rarely, if ever, are predictable. On a regular basis when reading his books I am left reeling with the implications and details that Ted includes in his writing. The Sanctuary was no different.
These characters are people I fell in love with during the Priest’s Graveyard. I remember asking Ted when that book released if he was worried about handling a female character from a first person perspective and he seemed surprised at the question. Now, after having read both books, it’s obvious that Ted doesn’t struggle with characterization or voice no matter who may be speaking at the time. Anyone who questions that after this book obviously doesn’t know Ted. Renee’s voice was haunting, beautiful and brilliant. The speed with which we went from a harsh prison environment with agonizing moments of torture and pain to a young woman terrified of entering a bar on her own was amazing.
Now despite all of this praise, the book still did delve into some very dark places. I can’t even say he teased around the edges or played a little bit with the darkness. When Ted went there, it was as he does everything else in his life – he embraced it with full and deep passion. There were things I couldn’t read and I had to skip. There were moments I was choked up with so much emotion I didn’t think I’d be able to pull myself away from the book. And there were arguments that I’ve heard debated in churches, youth groups and college classes – but never with such finesse and style.
If you’re looking for a heart pounding read that will keep you up at night (long after you have finished) this is the book for you. If you’re a Dekker fan, you obviously won’t want to miss this. If you’re just starting with Dekker, this might not be the best place to start. Email me and I’ll send you some suggestions.
All in all, it’s classic Dekker with style and grace. And as usual it is everything and nothing we expected all wrapped up together as one.
Rated R: There’s some really heavy stuff in this book. It’s by Ted Dekker and so it deals with Christian topics and questions, but it’s hard hitting and not intended for younger readers.
Review copy received from the publisher. Thank you, Sarah!
About the Reviewer:
Lori Twichell* has never been a supermodel although she has been asked once or twice if she’s the ‘before’ model on diet ads. She writes for a living. And reads. And publicizes. And takes care of her three kids, two dogs and a husband. And she doesn’t exercise nearly enough. (See aforementioned modeling reference.)
She is, however, a professional plate spinner. She currently has spinning plates in television, film, radio and publishing. You can see some of these spinning plates at her company website, Beyond the Buzz Marketing.
* Please note the use of stunt doubles….they’re prettier cause our jobs are way too dangerous to ask models to do this…