13:24: A Story of Faith and Obsession is a thriller by first time author M. Dolon Hickmon that describes the consequences of child abuse couched in the language of Christianity.
This review will contain spoilers, but since we know the identities of the killer and his victims, who are perpetrators of heinous crimes themselves, they may not actually spoil your appreciation. I deliberately did not use the would enjoyment because the novel contains graphic descriptions of child physical and sexual abuse. It’s definitely not for anyone who is upset or triggered by these topics.
13:24 is a generally well paced novel which begins with 14 year old Chris Pesner killing his mother and her ex-boyfriend. The motivation, as we soon find out, is revenge for the physical abuse Chris suffered at his step-father’s hands. Detective William Hursel is assigned the case of finding Chris but functions in the story primarily as recipient for expositions explaining the theological underpinnings of the abuse.
We are also introduced to Josh Sebala (Garnfield) son of preacher and author Allen Garnfield and lead singer of the metal band Rehoboam. Josh was also was the victim of abuse and is the source of much of the theological intimations and explanations in the book. Garnfield senior is the author of a book that promotes the adage ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ taken to an extreme. He and and his followers are also involved in a child porn ring that films and circulates young children being beaten and raped. Josh suffers from PTSD from his childhood and can’t escape the reminders of his abuse or his inability to please his father.
Along the way, we meet enablers, addicts, kidnap victims, therapists, support groups, and the unconditional love of friends and lovers. Some of the characters are a bit contrived, and the epitome of pure evil, but our main players are quite well developed.
I was introduced to the book be a review by George Waye at Dan Finke’s blog Camels with Hammers. Waye gives a good overview of the novel, but I disagree with him on a couple of minor points. Plot wise, there isn’t much to suggest that Chris’ crimes are due to an obsession with Rehoboam’s lyrics, rather his growing comprehension that he is not alone. He is a loner with a painful secret who long for acceptance and feels he has found a kindred spirit in Josh. Since Josh’s father is actually behind Chris’ abuse, there connection is stronger than either realizes at first.
I also felt that the pacing was a bit uneven in places and the heavy exposition would make it inaccessible to causal readers. In my personal opinion, the porn connection, while adding important discussions of sexual abuse ignored because of the stature of perpetrators, took something away from the impact of the religiously motivated extreme discipline. I also questioned the assumption that sexual gratification is the motivation of the abuse, although it may be involved in some instances.
These are minor quibbles and are definitely not reasons to avoid the book. I recommend Waye’s review for his views.
The novel is laced with theology and religious mythology. Since Hickmon was raised in a Christian fundamentalist family, I am sure his knowledge is much deeper than mine, and I only recognized a portion of the references in the novel. I’ve listed some of these below. All biblical quotes are from the King James Version.
The title is a reference to Proverbs 13:24
He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
This concept is reinforced in several other verses:
Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.
The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.
Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.
Withhold no correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.
“Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.
These verses are behind the actions of Allen Garnfield and are obviously based on those of Michael Pearl, author of To Train Up a Child and other books promoting extreme discipline. If you aren’t familiar with his work, compare Garnfield’s story to that told in this post at No Longer Quiverfull. To be fair, I have never read any sexual abuses committed by Pearl.
Josh’s band name Rehoboam is a reference to the 10th century BC Israelite king and son of Solomon. The importance comes from the biblical history and mythology.
Solomon, Rehoboam’s father, is best known as an exemplar of wisdom, but is criticized for his apostasy.
1 Kings 11:3:3 – 5
3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.
4 For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.
5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.
Milcom, also translated as Moloch, is often equated with child sacrifice, particularly by fire. This directly relates to the novel as Chris and young kidnap victim are very nearly roasted alive in an industrial kiln.
Rehoboam himself was the son of Solomon and Naamah the Ammonite (descended from Lot’s incestuous relationships with his daughters) and began his rule by following advice from his companions.
2 Chronicles 10:14
And answered them after the advice of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add thereto: my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
Other references include the climactic Rehoboam concert where Josh is portrayed first as a abused child then as Christ, the ultimate victim of child abandonment and abuse.
In discussion with Detective Hursel Josh explains his lyric ‘what comes between numbers 24 and 25‘. Between Numbers chapters 24 and 25, it can be insinuated that generations before Solomon, Balaam taught the priests to mingle doctrine with pagan teaching, causing the Israelites to curse themselves by committing idolatry.Thus condemning his father and others as hypocrites.
In the end, Josh gains some measure of revenge and understanding by giving his father a near fatal beating and Chris avoids dealing with his abuse and actions by committing suicide.
As readers, we are left to ponder the questions of justice, revenge, responsibility, and the repercussions of violence. Certainly topics that are spending some time with.
An interview with the author can be found here.