Joan Swan's Reviews > The Priest's Graveyard

The Priest's Graveyard by Ted Dekker
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's review
Jul 31, 2011

it was amazing
Read in July, 2011 — I own a copy

The premise of The Priest's Graveyard hooked me—a slight shift from the Dexter premise of serial killer killing serial killer. In this case the plot revolves around a violently terrorized victim killing perpetrators much like his own. That plot idea and execution held me through the first 1/3-1/2 of the book. That’s about when I began to realize that who I was rooting for and the reasons I was still reading the book had changed. The only part of the plot line that mattered to me at this point was how it would ultimately affect the two main protagonists. I was compelled to keep reading because I had to know how the characters fared in the end.

------------------- A WRITER'S REVIEW -----------------------

Two abandoned souls are on the hunt for one powerful man. Soon, their paths will cross and lead to one twisted fate.

Danny Hansen is a Bosnian immigrant who came to America with hopes of escaping haunted memories of a tragic war that took his mother's life. Now he's a priest who lives by a law of love and compassion. It is powerful men and hypocrites who abide by legal law but eschew the law of love that most incense Danny. As an avenging angel, he believes it is his duty to show them the error of their ways, at any cost.

Renee Gilmore is the frail and helpless victim of one such powerful man. Having escaped his clutches, she now lives only to satisfy justice by destroying him, regardless of whom she must become in that pursuit.

But when Danny and Renee's paths become inexorably entangled things go very, very badly and neither of them may make it out of this hunt alive.

Judge not, or you too will be judged.

One of the techniques Dekker uses that I found fascinating was how he shifted between first person pov and what I’m calling intimate first person pov. I never knew there was a difference, but it stands to reason if there is a third person pov and a deep third person pov, that concept would be the same for first person. But this is the first time I’d ever seen it used…or maybe used in a way that worked for me.

There are a few ways I think Dekker makes this technique stand out. First, even though both protagonists, Danny and Renee, are written in first person pov, their voices are very unique to their characters, so you get a sense of them as individuals. Second, with Renee, Dekker uses both first person techniques, regular and intimate, which in my opinion, makes the use of the intimate first person that much stronger when applied.

In retrospect, I think it was my attachment to Renee and that intimacy I developed through his use of the unusual first person technique that kept me reading when the plot became convoluted—a techniques that forces the reader to focus more on the characters. Although I have no idea whether Dekker planned it that way, when the strong plot of revenge killing dilutes and focuses on one man, the characters seem to grow deeper and more complex, which is when my attention shifted and my reason for continuing with the story changed.

First, let me give you an example, in Renee’s pov of what I consider first person pov. This is the pattern of first person I’ve seen most often.

I walked up to the cement landing and stopped in front of the door. A clay pot with a leafy green plant sat to one side. The doorbell button glowed orange, and I wondered if I should push it or just knock. It was early afternoon and I had no idea if the priest was even home. I reached up and pushed the button.

I had already decided that if the priest wasn’t home I would simply wait, but standing there alone on the porch, I felt completely exposed. Maybe it would be better if I waited in the back, where neighbors peering through their windows would be less likely to notice me.

Now, here is an intimate first person pov.

The moment I opened the door to my suite, I knew that something was wrong. I saw it clearly right there: The carpet had been stepped on.

Now I saw proof-positive evidence that my enemy had entered my room and was waiting in the bedroom to kill me. The thought almost made me drop the bag of hygiene products I’d purchased.

Instead, I tightened my grip on the plastic bag and stood perfectly still, studying those prints on my carpet. Maybe I’d walked on it before leaving. Of course that had to be it.

The prints were fairly large, however. Much larger than mine. A man’s prints, I thought, and if I hadn’t been so freaked out I might have flet some satisfaction for that piece of detective work. But I was far too preoccupied with the possibility that someone was in my suite.

I almost ran back out the door. Down the hall, out into the street. But then what? While I ran down the street with nowhere to go, whoever was here would take all my files and money and maybe turn me over to the police. Or wait for me to come back so he could kill me then.

For all I knew, the person had already come and gone. Or maybe the manager had come in tot set a breaker or something. With the door open behind me I had an advantage, right?

The second passage is clearly a deeper internal, almost like we’re inside her head, listening to her talk to herself. She’s tossing around ideas, considering options. Normally, I’m not a fan of questions in narrative. I find them leading and I don’t believe readers need to be lead, but these questions feel different to me.

Here are a few more passages. As they build upon one another, I became so intimately “as one” with Renee, I was completely invested in her well-being and the outcome of the story for her.

I weighed a dozen possible scenarios, some taken directly from my many books that detailed crimes of passion and murder. Instead of running, as the intruder would likely expect, I should play it smart and call his bluff. I could hide myself and wait for him to leave.

The thought of going in while someone with a gun or a machete was luring in my bedroom make my pulse peak, but I had read so many accounts of people doing stupid things in the heat of the moment, things that could have been avoided with a little thought. Like bolting.

The drapes (which I detested because they were green, heavy, and hard to clean) hung next to the sliding glass door, which led out to a tiny balcony. If I could get to them undetected, I would be able to hide in the corner where they were bunched. I was thin enough, and the drapes hung all the way to the floor, so my feet wouldn’t stick out.

But I would leave my own marks on the carpet. The intruder might see the tracks, follow them to the drapes, and stab his machete through the material.

Unless I went over the couch.

This is that moment in the movies when the audience on the couch yells, “Don’t stay, you idiot!” Yet, how many times have we all heard a noise in our own home only to go investigate the source? How many times have similar considerations drifted through our minds as we treaded down the stairs to the living room or basement only to find the cat tipped over a vase?

I find this technique of going through her thought process both entertaining and intimate.

My eyes remained on the doghouse, because that was the deal: What if I was to bury the body under the doghouse?

Assuming I could move the wooden structure, which looked pretty heavy. Assuming I could dig a hole large enough to fit a body. Assuming I could cover it up properly and drag the house back over the disturbed earth.

There were no tree roots to make digging impossible, which would probably be the case out in the greenbelt. No wild animals to dig up the body. Even if the house was eventually sold and the doghouse tossed, no one would know there was a body buried there. Even if they did eventually find the body after years of rain washed away the dirt or something, they would only assume Darby Gordon had been knocked off by some nasty criminal, he being one himself.

I feel as if she’s taking us on the journey with her. Discussing the situation with us, the way she’d discuss it with a friend if she had an accomplice.


This was the third day after I had broken into the Gordon house in San Pedro and killed the monster who’d preyed on his wife and children. Which each passing day, my craving to get on with it, to deal with Bourque, grew.

I know I’ve said this before, but I really felt like I had in the old days of my addiction to heroin, only in the best of ways. The fix is good, but after a few days I was dying for another one.

Not that I was dying to kill. Please, no, that wasn’t it at all. If I had felt that way, I might have been concerned for myself. Danny talked about how important it was to avoid becoming pathological, like a pathological liar or serial killer who can’t control his need to lie or kill.

Not at all. If anything, Danny and I were the exact opposite, carefully controlling our need to do what was right for the sake of others, not ourselves.

Still, I was feeling more eager to get back to Bourque as the hours ticked by. It’s what I now did, right? I was this new creature, and I needed to act like it.

This feels as if Renee has turned to the reader and started talking to them as a friend. It takes the intimacy from the ethereal sense of being in her mind to the solid sense of physically being with her.

It took me a lot of thought and analysis to figure out what it was about this book that kept me so enthralled and remains with me to this day, now a month after I read it. The intimacy with which Dekker applies first person in Renee’s voice is only one element. The Priest’s Graveyard is a learning experience on many levels and well worth the time and financial investment.

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