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Friday, August 24, 2007

Lewis' Out of Their League With Tale of Derring-Do

I've read Beverly Lewis before, so I expected Sanctuary (which was actually written by her and her husband, David) to be pretty much the same as her previous books. Turns out, I was right...and wrong.

This novel had a typical Lewis setting: Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. That is where Melissa "Mellie" James finds refuge after ditching the man who seems intent on killing her. When she spots him in a restaurant near her home in Connecticut, Mellie races home, packs a suitcase and leaves her house and new husband behind. She jots Ryan a quick note, knowing she can't divulge the reasons behind her disappearance without putting him in danger as well. Frantically, she flies down the freeway, trying to shake off her pursuer. When she is finally able to evade him, she drives deep into Amish country, figuring it as the last place her stalker would expect her to go. When she sees a house with a room for rent, she stops. The quaint, peaceful home is a godsend for Mellie, a place off the beaten track where she can hide in relative safety. Mellie's hostess is a young Mennonite woman named Lela Denlinger, who has been praying for a chance to become an instrument in God's hands by helping somebody. Mellie James seems the perfect candidate. As Lela observes her troubled boarder, she vows to help the woman any way she can. When the two become close, Mellie spills her story: Lela is stunned to find out that Mellie's father was an "accountant" for the Russian mob. After stealing 80 million dollars from a mobster, Emery took his young daughter and disappeared, only to be hunted down and killed by the same fiend. The money never surfaced, and now the same man is tracking Mellie, determined to find the money her father took from him so long ago. Since Mellie's teenage years, she has been hiding from this dangerous man, taking precautions to change her identity and appearance. Now, the mobster has got up with her and even if she can elude capture, she knows she can never go home and put her husband in danger. Lela assures her she is safe and that God will protect her. Still, Mellie is worried. She has good reason, because soon enough she realizes that not only does her pursuer know where she is, but he is not the only one she should fear - her husband, Ryan, may be in on the whole thing. As Mellie struggles to sort out her past and her future, she finds solace in the Plain community around her and even finds herself embarking on her own spiritual journey. In the end, Sanctuary a story about finding strength in God despite the evil running rampant in the world around us.

Sanctuary is typical Lewis fare in several ways: 1.) It involves the Amish/Mennonite community, 2.) It is told (and I do mean told - Lewis isn't much much for "showing" a story; apparently, her husband isn't either) in sloppy sentences, tired description and cliched characters, and 3.) It concerns people searching for God. The way it differs from Lewis' other novels is the whole mobster/revenge/violence thing. I haven't seen that before in her writing (I've never read David Lewis' books, but I think they're similar to his wife's), and I hope I don't see it again. Their antagonist is so cliche, it's funny. He definitely doesn't ring true, so I found him more comical than sinister. Like the antagonist in Sanctuary, most of the other characters are flat as can be, especially the very boring Ryan James. I found the Plain characters more interesting, although they all appeared to be saints, despite Lela's declaration that "We aren't perfect." Even Paul Martin, who left the Plain community (and reappears out of the blue, for no good reason whatsoever), finds only sorrow until he returns. In short, the Plain characters are too perfect; the Englischers are too generic; and the bad guys are just plain laughable. I also thought the book got very preachy and that the main characters' spiritual makeovers happened way too fast and way too easily to be realistic.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the ending. I thought the Lewis' would end it in the most generic way possible, but they actually surprised me.

All in all, I was pretty frustrated by the book. I do give the Lewis' kudos for producing a clean read that was inspiring, despite its many flaws. I also hope they stay away from tales of derring-do, and stick to the tried-and-true stories of Plain life for which they are known.

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