Monday, July 16, 2012

"Bone Man's Daughters" by Ted Dekker

Ryan Evans is a US Navy intelligence analyst who is captured in Iraq where terrorist Khalid forces him to choose between the death of his wife and child, or watch a child he doesn't know have all their bones broken in front of him. Seven children are killed before he is able to escape. Understandably, he is now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and isn't quite in his right mind.

But his problems are only just beginning. Wife Celine and daughter Bethany refuse to have anything to do with him anymore, since he has always been on assignment, and never been there for them. District attorney Burt Welsh has now moved in on the family. Events culminate in a restraining order being placed on Ryan so that he can't see his daughter.

Meanwhile, a serial killer dubbed Bone Man is about to be released from prison because of the faulty evidence that convicted him. He's dubbed Bone Man as he likes to break every bone in his teenage female victim's body without breaking the skin. However, Agent Ricki Valentine believes the wrong man is behind bars anyway. She's proven right when Bone Man conveniently chooses Bethany as his next victim. All he wants is a daughter who loves him as much as he loves himself. He breaks their bones when they fail to make the grade.

Ryan's erratic behaviour and his experience in Iraq with a terrorist with a similar modus operandi immediately pegs him as actually being Bone Man himself. He must try to evade the authorities on his tail while also playing a game with Bone Man, who has given him seven days to try and save his daughter.

A little research on the Internet revealed to me that Ted Dekker is actually a well-known Christian author. Fans of his Christian work did not like this book with it's nasty subject matter and smattering of profanity. Actually, most Christian readers were more offended by the use of the word "Goddamn" than the fact the plot involved a serial killer who liked to break the bones of teenage girls. Go figure.

Knowing that Dekker is a devout Christian explains the fact that this novel is very heavy on the religious allegory. Ryan represents God, Bone Man represents the Devil, and Bethany represents the non-believer whose soul they are battling over. Or something like that. If Dekker had placed more focus on delivering believable characters with realistic dialogue and less on the (obvious) symbolism, this thriller could have had something going for it. As it is, what we have is very repetitive, largely predictable and devoid of plot twists.
Ryan repeats over and over again - "he couldn't do it! But how could he not do it? He had to save his daughter!" or words to that effect. The one plot twist this tries to deliver at the end is rather absurd.

The book does score points for its premise, and its nastiness did make me squirm. Despite this, the actual "on-site" violence is very limited. The mere suggestion of what people are doing (being forced to break other peoples' bones) is quite enough, and Dekker wisely leaves it to the reader's imagination. It's a pity that this tense, disturbing scenario didn't evolve into a gripping thriller, as it really could have been one. Unfortunately, the author is too preoccupied with delivering an allegory instead. Nevertheless, I'm not going to dismiss the author out of hand just yet. Even though I'm not religious, I don't mind religion being used to explore the dark themes often found in thriller material. "Bone Man's Daughters" suggests that Dekker could one day deliver something memorable.

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