Book Review: The Sanctuary (Ted Dekker)

The Sanctuary
The Sanctuary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ted Dekker is a prolific author who I’ve written about previously. You may remember my review of The Bride Collector, BoneMan’s Daughters, or Adam. If you were to page through those reviews you would notice that I’ve read a lot of Ted Dekker (Saint, Showdown, Sinner, Thr3e, House, and Skin would be added to the list). You might also notice that I find myself an inconsistent reviewer of Dekker. That is, I’m not consistently positively or negatively reviewing Dekker – one book I’ll enjoy, the next is just so-so, and there was even Obsession which I never did manage to finish reading.

The Sanctuary falls, in my humble opinion, into the so-so series of books written by Dekker. It tells the story of Danny Hansen (whom we have previously met in The Priest’s Graveyard – a book I have not yet read – oops), a soldier turned priest who can’t stand injustice and has taken innumerable lives in an effort to save the helpless from their abusers. Now Danny has been sent to prison for two murders he didn’t commit and this prison is a strange place called Basal or “The Sanctuary.” Run by Warden Marshall Pape it is founded on new philosophies of prison management that Pape believes will allow society to finally reform prisoners into useful members of society. At the same time, Hansen’s beloved, Renee is on the outside desperately trying to save Hansen from mysterious threats against his life.

This book feels to me as if it was written about the prison system and justice. That Dekker is trying to help his readers understand some of the weaknesses systemic in the justice system while at the same time probing for himself the philosophical balance between defending the innocent and a commitment to non-violence / conformity to the law. This is very similar to the way I felt about The Bride Collector, which seemed to be talking about mental illness with a story wrapped around it.

Unfortunately – while mental illness, the prison system, and justice (more generally) are excellent topics to work through in a book – I don’t feel that Dekker has mastered the art of combining commentary and dialogue on serious topics with fictional content. Who has? The first name that comes to mind is Dostoevsky. In Crime and Punishment, for example, he writes a somewhat exhausting book which carefully considers what happens to a man who attempts to unbind himself for morality. Another example, though more in the theological realm is Tosca Lee’s Demon: A Memoir, which carefully balances a gripping narrative with a philosophical consideration of the supernatural’s role in our lives.

In the end, the book is another thriller. If you are looking for something to fill your time – The Sanctuary will do – but it isn’t groundbreaking or revelatory. It aspires to be more than a thriller and certainly communicates somewhat the weaknesses present in the justice system. But it doesn’t reach my (albeit high) standard for amazing books really worth your time. For that, turn to Dekker’s Adam or Thr3e, Peretti’s Oath, or Tosca Lee’s Demon: A Memoir.

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