Reviewed by Adam Blumer
Peretti, Frank and Ted Dekker. House. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006. 400 pages, Jacketed Hardcover, Trade Paper, or CD-Abridged. $25.99.
Purchase: Thomas Nelson | CBD | Amazon
ISBNs: 1595541551 / 9781595541550 (Hardcover); 159554156X / 9781595541567 (Trade Paper); 1595541578 / 9781595541574 (CD-Abridged)
DCN: 813.54 or F PER
LCCN: PS3566 .E691317 H68
Subjects:Christian Fiction, Suspense
Frank Peretti is the author of the international bestsellers The Oath and This Present Darkness. Peretti lives with his wife Barbara in the Pacific Northwest.
Ted Dekker is known for his adrenaline-packed stories dealing with confrontations between good and evil. He is the author of Thr3e, Obsessed, Showdown, Saint, and Skin.
Jack Singleton and his wife, Stephanie, are driving from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama, when a cop, Morton Lawdale, pulls them over for having a burned-out brake light. While taking the detour he recommends (they are lost and need directions back to the main highway), they blow all four tires on spikes someone mysteriously placed in the road. Unsettled, they go to the nearby Wayside Inn, hoping to find a phone and to call for help since their cell phones lack service.
Crossing the veranda, they find a note: Welcome, weary traveler. Sign in at the front desk. Inside, they find no innkeeper, but they do find another couple, Randy Messarue and Leslie Taylor, victims of the same fate. Their car’s tires have also been slashed. Unable to find a telephone, they look for the owner of the establishment and bump into three bizarre caretakers: Betty, Stanley, and their son, Pete. After an unsettling meal with their hosts, they decide to leave the house.
But outside the front door, they encounter the “immense shape of a man, a shadowy silhouette veiled by a light rain. A duster draped the body to midcalf, and the face was obscured by the shadow of a wide-brimmed, drooping hat. The man held a shotgun, the barrel glinting in the lights lining the path” (p. 51). The stranger locks the house’s doors from the outside.
Betty says the man is called Barsidious White and has murdered several couples in abandoned houses in the area. They hear the scuffle of White’s boots on the roof and then the “tinny rattling like a soda can falling down a narrow well, careening, pinging, and clinking off the sides” (p. 62). An old soup can lands in the fireplace. Written on the can is the following (p. 63):
Welcome to my house.
1. God came to my house and I killed him.
2. I will kill anyone who comes to my house as I killed God.
3. Give me one dead body, and I might let rule two slide.
Game over at dawn.
It’s 10:27 p.m. in a creepy, old house. The doors are locked from the outside, a maniac wants you dead, and you have until dawn to find a way out. Welcome to the creepy world of Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker. If you’ve read any fiction by these guys, you’ll understand why only these two bestselling Christian authors of supernatural suspense could have invented a fast-paced Christian novel like this one. I’ve read and own almost every Peretti novel out there, but I’ve read only a few novels by Dekker, the latest rising star in Christian fiction. This novel is no This Present Darkness, the novel that catapulted Peretti to celebrity status. The reader finds no war between demons and angels, but there is a war nonetheless.
If you enjoy stories about things that go bump in the night, you’ll love House. The book hooked me right away and reeled me in. If you like action-packed Christian novels, this one ranks at the top as far as pacing and page appeal. When Jack and his friends discover that Betty, Stanley, and Pete are White’s henchmen who also want to see them dead, they begin an adrenaline-packed fight for survival and discovery that lasts until dawn the following morning. Along the way, they battle not only Betty, Stanley, and Pete but also themselves as they consider which of the four is expendable and could be the sacrifice so White will let the rest of them live.
The bulk of the novel contains the following ingredients: A harrowing fight in a meat locker with a shotgun, a meat cleaver, and an ax hammer. A creepy game of cat and mouse in a maze of underground tunnels and rooms in a basement that is too large for the house. Other bizarre encounters and battles throughout the house.
I’ll admit that the novel is a little weird, but it kept me glued. Older, more mature readers might have difficulty giving House a chance, but younger readers should have no problem. I kept wondering, What is the point? How are they going to escape? Is one of them going to die so the rest will live? This is an allegory, right? These lingering questions propelled me forward, and the novel’s pace never lagged—almost to its detriment. Is it possible for a novel to have too much action? I sometimes longed for a pause somewhere just so I could catch my breath. Dekker and Peretti do a fine job of keeping the pages turning, and House is an enjoyable plot-driven ride. When the movie version comes out at theaters this fall, it should be interesting to see how the movie does at the box office.
A Few Disclaimers
As with my last Christian novel review, I believe in being honest with readers about the pros and cons of a Christian novel. By its very nature, a novel should be fun and engaging. But because writing is communication, novels intrinsically have something to say. So what about the content of House? During my evaluation, I asked myself, “If I handed this novel to my mom, a more mature and traditional reader who has been reading Christian fiction longer than I have, would I need to make any disclaimers?” Unfortunately, yes. Some (but very little) content raised my eyebrows more than once due to subject matter. Several times, Stephanie says or thinks God’s name in surprise or fear. That practice is common in popular movies or on TV to the level of cliche, but does that make it okay? I don’t think so. In the novel, Stephanie is not depicted as a believer. One could debate whether her exclamations of God’s name are pleas for help or her taking God’s name in vain.
Who Is the Audience?
Most Christian novels are written for, well, Christians. What’s unusual about House is that not one of the main characters is depicted as a believer. Right away, I got the feeling that the novel was intended for an unsaved audience, making it a “crossover” novel. In fact, the cover graphics reminded me of novels by Stephen King and other popular horror novelists I avoid. Another hint was the front-cover endorsement by Ralph Winter, producer of the X-Men movies. A secular reader might find the novel more worthy of being read because of Winter’s endorsement; for me, his endorsement only made me roll my eyes. Why should I care what the producer of the X-Men movies thinks about the novel? (The topic of seeking credibility from the world or presenting a Christian product that appeals to the world (whether books, music, or movies) is worthy of further discussion.)
The fact that the novel is targeted at unbelievers became more clear as I kept reading. No main characters reflect on scriptural truths or remember Bible verses. In fact, they exhibit a lot of worldly attitudes and emotions. But their “sins” are pivotal to the plot and to the novel’s theme, so there is a point here. Jack, an author, and Stephanie, a country-music singer, are struggling through a marriage on the brink of divorce. Randy, a control freak, owns a hotel chain; and Leslie is a psychiatrist who struggles with her own sensual bent.
They’re just ordinary, unsaved folks trying to live life without God and struggling with their own sins. At one point in the story, Stephanie reflects on her tendency of being a practical atheist. The characters try to survive their ordeal through muscle and sweat rather than through any dependence on the divine, but perhaps that’s the point. They realize they can’t survive without help outside of themselves. In the end, the novel lacks any overt gospel presentation, but the authors do deliver a message of redemption to the discerning through the clever use of symbols and allegory.
A Map Might Help
The authors are experts at writing action and suspense sequences, and I found the novel hard to put down; but sometimes I felt a little lost. I found myself thinking, Okay, Jack, you’ve run down that hallway three times already. Is there a point to all of this running around? Looking back, I think a map of the house’s layout might have helped, especially in the labyrinth called “the basement.” Looking for a way to escape, the characters discover umpteen rooms, corridors, and tunnels. They get lost several times, and I did, too—but maybe I was supposed to. Perhaps their stumbling around was what made them realize they couldn’t escape in their own strength.
I got lost in another way, too. The book’s allegory gave me something fun to puzzle over, but the twists and turns sometimes made me feel a little lost. By the last page, I think I finally “got” what Dekker and Peretti were trying to say. Or did I? I found myself puzzling over the novel’s message long after I had finished it. That’s probably a good thing.
The Bottom Line
House comes across as a Christian version of a popular horror novel, and I’m sure that’s what Dekker and Peretti were going for. For a horror novel, you won’t find a cleaner read. The novel is surprising void of blood-spattering violence, though there is some violence—mostly in the many encounters with the bad guys in various parts of the house.
What’s going for House is suspense. Most of the novel is propelled by the need to know what’s lingering just around the next spooky corner. It’s a scary ride but not a blood-spattered one. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and time is running out. As 6 a.m. approaches, the main characters wonder about their fate, and the reader does, too. Some twists and turns push the limits of credibility; but in supernatural fiction of this variety, the reader should accept “fantasy” at some level.
If you like a fast, clean, scary ride without gratuitous violence and bad language, House is a good fit. If you’re looking for a Christian novel that sheds light on deep spiritual truths, this isn’t one of them. Should you recommend House to your unsaved friends? Though the novel doesn’t deliver an explicit salvation message per se, its allegory gets readers thinking about the sin lurking in their own hearts and about their need for atonement. Anything that arouses probing questions about human depravity and the need for a Savior has merit. Consider the allegory in House along the same lines as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. You won’t find an explicit gospel presentation in the C.S. Lewis classic either, but the message of redemption is clearly there for those willing to see it. The same is true for House.
|Adam Blumer is a freelance writer, a contract editor, and SI’s managing editor. A Bob Jones University graduate with a B.A. in Print Journalism, he served as an editor and writer for 14 years at Northland Baptist Bible College (Dunbar, WI) and Awana Clubs International Headquarters (Streamwood, IL). A graduate of the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Course, he has published short stories and articles. Recently, his first novel was accepted for publication. In his spare time, he enjoys writing, reading, playing the piano, and hiking in the woods. God has blessed him and his wife, Kim, with two daughters. See his website.