Fiction Book Review: Adam (Author: Ted Dekker).

Cover of "Adam"
Cover of Adam

Ted Dekker Generally:

The first book I read by Ted Dekker was Thr3e, which I enjoyed thoroughly from start to end. But then it felt like Dekker hit a dry spell. I read House which he had co-authored with Frank Peretti1Peretti is probably my favorite fiction writer, especially in the Christian genre. He, however, also disappointed me first with Monster and then with House. and it disappointed thoroughly. House seemed to lack real story (as most horror does) and focused on an extremely fragmented narrative.2By this I mean the book is told in small segments, swapping back and forth between characters, times, places, etc. This is fine when done in moderation (e.g. one chapter about one character, the next about another), but when it becomes pervasive it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I consider it an artificial method of creating a driving thriller. Instead of real substance one breaks up the story in a way that feels “fast-paced” but if placed in order would simply feel simplistic and dull.

After that it was Showdown and Saint (The Paradise Series), both of which I found somewhat boring – probably due to the imaginative storyline which felt just a bit too fantastical for my tastes. I picked up Obsessed but never was obsessed with it and haven’t finished it yet (not sure if I will). I’d heard good things about his Circle Trilogy (Black, Red, and White) but have avoided them out of my distaste for The Paradise Novels.

I stopped by the library recently and picked up two of his latest – Skin and Adam. I read Skin first. I was solidly disappointed yet again. I was tempted to just return Adam without even a second glance. I’m not trying to say Dekker’s books where awful – they weren’t – they were okay, good, average. They just weren’t great and I have a reading list a mile long. I decided to give it a try anyways – a few pages, then put it aside. Dekker grabbed me in the first several pages and wouldn’t let me go. Wow! By the end Charity had joined me and we were reading the story together. We both agreed that it was his most mature work to date. In fact, I would consider it a masterpiece in its genre.

Synopsis:

Daniel Clark works for the FBI and is hunting down a mysterious serial killer known only as “Eve” for taking innocent women and murdering them via a lethal biological injection. Clark has been hard on Eve’s trail for a long time and has lost his marriage over his obsession to catch Eve. Now it seems that Clark is finally getting close, but Eve outsmarts him again – shooting him in the head and killing him. Miraculously, Clark is resuscitated, but not without losing his memory of the killer’s face. The key to capturing this devious criminal is locked in his damaged mind.

Okay, so the storyline isn’t perhaps all that different from any number of other crime thrillers, or for that matter many of Dekker’s other stories – but the execution is flawless. Dekker interweaves the current narrative of the serial killer chase with fictitious newspaper articles written after the case describing the evolution of Alex Price (Eve) from a man into a killer.

There are only so many times one can read a crime thriller. They pretty much have the same narrative structure and storyline – bad guy kills people, bad guy gets caught. Flesh it out and you have your story. So how does one separate oneself from the masses? Dekker does it (and rightly so) by asking deeply philosophical (and theological) questions via his narrative3He does this in some of his other novels, but generally I have found the execution flawed with the exception of Thr3e and Adam., specifically, “What is it that causes an individual to become a serial killer? Is one born as such or bred as such? Can a good man become a bad one?” This questions can be asked in a heavy-handed manner that demands a certain pathway be followed and fails to truly explore the questions and accept the unanswered dimensions, but Dekker succeeds in asking these questions in a way that feels real and authentic.

Conclusion:

If you are looking for a thrilling read, Adam is a great place to look. I have read few books that have grabbed me in such a firm way – and that I look back on with deep thoughts. I think the question of the darkest edges of humanity (e.g. serial killers) fascinates us because we believe at some point that it gives us insight into the whole of humanity. We want to understand how we can aberrate so far – we want to find an answer. Dekker encourages us to search our souls for the right answers.4This book is not a pure criminal thriller. If you want to get an idea of the secret twist (which makes the story even more frightening) click here, it’ll take you to a book referenced in the novel that is tightly intertwined with the plot – but warning – its a spoiler!

How Not to Scare Pro-Gun Supporters (Quite as Much)

John Morse served as President of the Colorado Senate until a recent recall vote ousted him from the position. What had he done to invoke the wrath of the people? Pushed for gun control restrictions in Colorado in the aftermath of the Aurora (Colorado) mass shooting.

I’m not going to take a position on gun control, but I do want to point out a major faux pas1Merriam-Webster defines as “an embarrassing social mistake.” I’m not sure if I’m utilizing this word in its correct literal sense, but I suppose you’ll get the idea. committed by Morse in an article he wrote for The Daily Beast (Rampage. Regret. Repeat.).

Man Shooting Gun, thanks to milan6 over at sxc.hu for making the image available royalty free.
Man Shooting Gun, thanks to milan6 over at sxc.hu for making the image available royalty free.

Morse’s article outlines five focuses of his endeavors in the Colorado Senate including (1) limiting new magazines to be limited to 15 rounds, (2) everyone must pass a background check before purchasing a gun, (3) the gun buyer has to pay for the background check, (4) training for a conceal-weapons permit must occur at least partially in person, and (5) proactive removal of guns from the possession of domestic violence perpetrators.

Whatever you may think of this legislation, Morse’s primary mistake is earlier in the article. At the beginning of his article he notes how as a paramedic he was called to a home where a husband used a shotgun to shoot his wife in the head (resulting in her death) and then turned the gun on himself…All the while, an infant child is in the room watching.

Why is this problematic? Because it reinforces pro-gun supporters fears. Let me explain. The great fear of pro-gun advocates is that we are on a “slippery slope” towards firearms restrictions which will become ever more stringent. The legislation Morse passed would do nothing to stop this sort of violence – and pro-gun supporters know this – and thus know if that if these sort of cases are the impetus for gun control, then it is only a matter of time till gun control advocates see that previous legislation didn’t eliminate these cases and they propose yet stringent measures.

“But wouldn’t taking away this man’s gun have prevented this violence?” Unlikely. Gun restrictions may help reduce the body count in mass shootings but is unlikely to eliminate or reduce (imho) crimes such as the one Morse outlines above. If the offender in this case didn’t have a shotgun, he could easily have used a baseball bat or knife. The casualties would have been just as severe – and the trauma inflicted on the child would be equal or greater to that the child experienced seeing his mother and father shot (a gunshot blast is fairly instantaneous, bludgeoning or stabbing can be a complicated process).

Nor, from the information Morse provides, would this individual have been prevented from purchasing a gun by the legislation Morse passed.

  1. Shotguns are generally low capacity – sometimes one or two shots, sometimes five.
  2. It is possible this individual had crimes in his background – but Morse doesn’t mention any.
  3. Paying for the background check is unlikely to dissuade anyone – I assume this would cost around $10-$15 for a background check. At the most $25.
  4. This individual was using a shotgun, not a concealed weapon.
  5. Again, it is possible that this could have helped, if the individual had a criminal background – but Morse does not provide this info. – so I assume he did not. Even if he did, proactively taking someone’s guns, even if legislated by law is a litigious action, and I highly doubt that the police force is going to be eager to undertake such proactive procurement except in the most certain of cases.

So, what am I saying? That gun control advocates shoot themselves in the foot when they use crimes which arise emotions in us but that won’t be reduced by the legislation they are proposing.

Pro-gun advocates might be able to find more common ground if they didn’t see red warning signs that this was only the “beginning of the slippery slope.”

Movie Review: Bernie (PG-13).

In the film Bernie, the lead character (whose name is also the title of the film), is a friendly funeral director who befriends a wealthy widow but eventually ends up resenting her as she becomes increasingly controlling of him. In the end, Bernie murders his wealthy friend, that pulls off a nine month sham pretending she is alive while spending her money.

Now a number of elements make this film somewhat unique. First is that it is based upon a true story. Secondly, and this is an odd combination, Jack Black plays the leading role. Third is the film being a black comedy, and fourth is probably Matthew McConaughey playing the District Attorney.

The film raises a number of ethical questions – both via the film itself and because of controversy surrounding the film. For example:

  • How long after a crime has occurred is it acceptable to make a film or write a book about the occurrence?
  • Is it appropriate to create a comedy which, to some extent, pokes fun at the victim?
  • Was Bernie really a nice guy or a superb actor and manipulator?
  • Do we accept that Bernie was in some senses receiving abuse, and if so, should this play any consideration in the ruling on his guilt or the extent of his punishment?

If you are looking for laughs – look elsewhere. I’m not a big fan of black comedy in the first place – I find it depressing and disturbing…but this film lacked all but the barest resemblances to a comedy. This is both a weakness (it plods along) and a strength (it takes a multi-faceted perspective to the crime, its perpetrator, and its victim and probes more deeply into the mind of Bernie than could have been accomplished in a straightforward comedy).

The film is rated PG-13 – most likely for the language which is sporadic throughout the film, mainly in retrospective interviews with individuals (played by actors) who knew Bernie and his victim, Marjorie Nugent.

Here are two interesting articles I found on the true crime:

If you do watch the film I’m interested to know what you think of it, and of the ethical dilemmas it raises.