Friday, April 18, 2014

HEAVEN'S PREY by Janet Sketchley: a review

The power of God over pornography, abuse of women, and evil in general: that's the theme of the novel HEAVEN'S PREY by Janet Sketchley.

The main character, Ruth Warner, is a somewhat boring forty-something Christian who persistently prays that God will save Harry Silver, a rapist and killer of young women including her niece. One evening, as Ruth returns from a prayer meeting, she's mistakenly abducted by none other than Harry instead of his intended victim, a dishy blond.

What follows is a long psychological, physical, and spiritual battle between Ruth and Harry. He takes her to a remote cottage, where he abuses her though not to the point of rape. Ruth isn't his type: too old, wrong hair, sheep-like. However, he does plan to rape her eventually, fueling his passion with the hard-core pornography he's addicted to.

Ruth prays that God will help her escape, and also keeps praying that her captor will come to faith in Christ. The first part of her prayer seems to be answered when Harry becomes so ill with an intestinal disorder that he no longer knows she's there. She slips away from the cottage, only to be caught and returned by Harry's accomplices, drug dealers who have been watching the place with WebCams.

By this time Harry is regaining a shaky grip on reality. Sometimes he knows who Ruth is and repeats his threats of rape and murder. Sometimes he thinks she's a kind lady sent to take care of him, perhaps his mother, who died when he was a boy.

Ruth, now bolder than before, tells Harry in no uncertain terms that he needs to ask God for deliverance and forgiveness, and invite Jesus into his heart.

Harry protest that God either can't or won't help him, just like God couldn't or wouldn't help his Christian mother when she suffered domestic abuse. However, Ruth and her Saviour finally get through to Harry. He becomes a new creature in Christ, turns himself in to police, and goes to jail for his many crimes.

The future looks dark for Harry Silver, but now he has a divine Friend, the Creator of the universe, to help him. An epilogue hints that other good things may be in store for him.

Author Janet Sketchley is an earnest and powerful writer. She's sure of her message, no wavering, no inconsistencies. Her story is crystal clear. She stresses the main plot points, even repeating them from time to time. In some novels, this might irritate readers, but she does it in such a way that it's a plus.

Sketchley is good at letting us in on her characters' thoughts and feelings. Examples: "Ruth had only one...anchor against the rising tide of fear. But even prayer took a conscious act of will." Ruth's agnostic husband, frantic with worry after she's abducted, thinks "Face this alone? How could he face it at all?"

The story's characters come across as real people with the occasional exception. Example: Ruth's niece seems too good to be true. Also I'm not sure of the theology behind what she says as Harry is abusing her: "It's not me you're hurting. It's Jesus."

The story includes several flashbacks, all well written and well placed, though some are too long for my taste; for example, the account of how Harry began his career as a racing car driver. On the other hand, this account allows Sketchley to do one of the things she's best at: write about action. Throughout the novel, her action scenes are exciting and authentic.

Sketchley doesn't shy away from describing evil. She's particularly strong when portraying the hold that pornography can have on a person. In one flashback, Harry is invited to spend three days on a yacht with friends. He decides he can't go because he "couldn't face three days cut off from his porn." Sketchley is equally frank about domestic abuse, as well as the effects of illegal drugs.

Some of what her characters think and say regarding their Christian faith is predictable. But some of it is so fresh and moving, it made me cry. Examples: Harry's mother talking to the boy Harry about the beatings she endures at the hands of her husband: "Jesus puts his arms around me. If not, I couldn't make it." Ruth's pastor being interviewed on TV about the abducted Ruth: "He faced directly into the camera and raised his hand, palm forward. 'Harry Silver, I command you, in the power and the name of Jesus Christ, to leave His servant Ruth alone. You have no authority over her, and you will not harm her in any way.'"

I'm glad Harry didn't harm Ruth in any lasting way, and glad he found redemption. I look forward to Book Two in the author's planned series, Redemption's Edge.


  1. Elma, thank you for such a carefully thought out review. This is the one I'll point people to if they're concerned the content might be too much.

    I'm glad the action scenes worked. You can probably tell they're my favourite parts :)

  2. Thoughtful review, Elma. Enjoyed reading your insights, pro and con, about this book. It's always enlightening to read how others react to a book I've read.