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Review of BoneMan’s Daughters

BoneMan’s Daughters
By Ted Dekker
Center Street, 2009

If you’re going to inflict such a creaky and ham-handed thing as extended religious allegory on the long-suffering modern world, you’d bloody well better be as good a writer as John Bunyan.

Creepy pseudo-messianic religious fiction author Ted Dekker is no John Bunyan, and his new book, BoneMan’s Daughters, is no Pilgrim’s Progress. It barely qualifies as Pilgrim’s Regress. And as if reading a breathless, predictable narrative filled with paper-thin caricatures and megaphoned emphases weren’t bad enough, the experience is constantly given an extra-gummy sheen by carrying a freight of Biblical and quasi-Biblical double meanings. Reading it is like listening to that annoying co-worker who’s constantly making sexual double-entendres, except without the guilty pleasure.

Difficult to know what pleasures BoneMan’s Daughters could impart, even though Dekker’s numberless fans (call them legion?) will no doubt claim it’s a masterpiece. The story concerns intelligence officer Ryan Evans, whose teenaged daughter Bethany falls into the clutches of the serial killer Alvin Finch, called BoneMan, who’s intent on horrifically killing young women until he finds his perfect daughter. BoneMan exercises a certain allure over poor confused Bethany, whose relationship with Evans has been troubled. And all of that might have worked as a simple straight-up thriller (Dekker has some glimmerings of talent in that direction). But in BoneMan’s Daughtersit all gets served up so heavily slathered in encoded religious double-speak that every single passage – like this climactic confrontation between hero and villain – feels like some queasily hysterical Sunday morning revivalist melodrama:

“So you admit you’re not really even her father.” [said BoneMan]

“Yes.”

His answer seemed to confuse the man. This was the kind of reason and control that would give them hope, he realized. And although BoneMan knew how to hate with more passion than most men, real love would confuse him.

“I admit, I’m not her father, not really,” Ryan said. “But that’s changing now.”

“Now that you’re in my house.”

“Now that I’m pursuing her love.”

The words seemed to take Alvin Finch off guard. He was a man of exceptional control but now he blinked; he began to sweat.

“She hates you,” BoneMan said.

No. No, she couldn’t possibly hate him. Maybe on a hot afternoon when harsh words about who she was dating were exchanged, but not now when they were both fighting for her life.

Alvin Finch was so devoid of love that he didn’t know how to recognize it. He was indeed the Satan in the mix, bent upon winning the heart of his victim, though no one could possibly love him. His victims might show him a mirror of love to win his kindness, but they would never be able to return real love any more than he could receive it.

BoneMan’s Daughters contains hundreds of passages like this, stretches that make you feel like there’s a second conversation being whispered just underneath the first one. In the audible portion, the motions of an ordinary serial killer novel are being enacted. In the inaudible portion, prophesies and revelations are being canted for the faithful. Readers sane enough to be terrified of eternal truths should consider themselves forewarned.

Get thee behind me, John Bunyan.

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