Prolific author Jerry B. Jenkins, whose books have sold over 70 millions copies worldwide, describes RIVEN as his life's work, a novel he has always wanted to write.
The story opens with a man's first step toward his death within the confines of Adamsville State Penitentiary on Death Row. Its inmates, who once jeered and subjected this particular prisoner to unending ridicule, now begin a slow tapping on their cell doors in tribute to their fellow prisoner as he takes his final steps toward execution. No one could have been more shocked at how he was ending his life on earth (as a hero of sorts) after having been such a bad man.
Seventeen years earlier, in Touhy Trailer Park, Brady Wayne Darby rouses his younger brother Petey to get up for school. Despite the fact that they have a mother, Brady has taken it upon himself to parent and protect Petey from his alcoholic mother's physical and verbal abuse. Living in a rundown trailer park, Brady wants nothing more than to escape the prison of his poverty. But no matter where he goes, he always makes the wrong choice. Whether at work or at school, Brady somehow chooses to lie, steal, and turn his back on anyone and everyone willing to lend him a hand. Increasingly, he turns to more desperate crime, and when his brother is killed during a freak storm, his heart goes even colder. He finally lands himself in the maximum-security prison at Adamsville where he awaits execution.
In a parallel storyline, defeated preacher Thomas Carey and his wife Grace find themselves with little hope when yet another church ousts them for not complying to insider church politics. Worn out from being an ineffective minister, Thomas is wary when offered the chaplain's position at Adamsville. Grace encourages Thomas to take it and he does...only to serve another 14 years without seeing any fruit of his labor. As Thomas has a crisis of faith, Grace's physical condition declines, their only daughter, Ravinia, continually rejects their Christian beliefs, and Thomas cries out to God all the more. Just when life couldn't get any more discouraging, Thomas is called upon to minister to Brady at the prison. What happens next no one --- certainly neither of the men themselves --- would have predicted.
Brady and Thomas soon develop a tenuous friendship where trust is slowly built, and Thomas, in his abject weariness, tells Brady not to waste his time if he's not serious about matters of faith. As Brady relives the murder he committed, he finally realizes he has no hope, no escape, without God's intervention. So the two men talk and pray, and Thomas believes at long last that he'll see God break into the most unlikely man's soul. Brady is stirred to make the most of his final days and hatches a plan that will upset the prison system from top to bottom and gain unprecedented media coverage.
At a hefty 500-plus pages, Jenkins does his best to tell the whole story from both of the main characters’ vantage points. And he succeeds in emotionally engaging readers with his two protagonists' sufferings and defeats. Interestingly, his depiction of the church is as negative as the world gone bad. It is from this realistic, and sobering, backdrop that fans of Jenkins's previous work will find themselves nodding in agreement and disgust.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on July 22, 2008