In 1973, in a dark, damp and desolate concrete room in the basement of an Albanian prison --- a place where “grace and hope had never touched” and “even the dust in the air was heard shrieking” --- a man is interrogated and brutally tortured. After days of enduring sadistic pain, including having his “nails wrenched from their sockets,” the man called the Prisoner remains silent, refusing even to identify himself. As the horror and interrogation intensify, so does the mystery. Is the Prisoner an assassin? A spy? A murderer? A priest? How can he be forced to talk?
It is only after the Prisoner’s bloody and daring escape that Colonel Vlora, the investigator in charge of the notorious Albanian prison, discovers the identity of the man as Dimiter, an American “agent from hell.” But what is his mission? Why has he come to the godless state of Albania?
After Dimiter flees prison, the scene shifts to war-torn Jerusalem in 1974. At Hadassah Hospital, neurologist Moses Mayo awakens in the middle of the night with a sense of dread and tries to recall a troubling dream. Mayo is haunted by recent events at the hospital: a bloody and brutal murder in the psychiatric ward; the death of a stroke patient who, before his passing, talked to apparitions who bore “witness”; reports of strange visitors by Samia, a brassy nurse; and inexplicable miraculous cures.
Also in Jerusalem, Police Detective Peter Meral, an Arab Christian and Dr. Mayo’s longtime friend, is busy at work. Meral, a grief-stricken man who has lost his wife and only child, “seems to ache at the slightest parting.” He is immersed in the investigations of a fiery explosion, a troubling CIA cover-up, a criminal found with a broken neck and a body discovered at the Tomb of Christ.
As the death count rises, the investigation and the mystery persist. Are the deaths related? If so, how? More so, why? Who is behind the murders --- and the miracles? Who will be the next to die?
DIMITER --- the man and the book --- is enigmatic, compelling and beguiling. Part mystery and part spiritual thriller, William Peter Blatty’s novel is rich in detail and written with wisdom and grace. Through compelling narration, vivid scenes, revealing dialogue, police transcripts, interrogations, newspaper articles and epistles, Blatty has created an amazing tale. At the moment of epiphany, when the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, it is stunning how the characters, events and details relate.
Yet one detail at the story’s beginning confounded me. I could not understand how the two-year-old brindle-eyed boy remained the same age a year later. Regardless of that niggling bit, DIMITER is a haunting novel that should be read twice --- once for the captivating and faith-affirming story, and a second time to savor the author’s elegant writing and masterful craft.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt (firstname.lastname@example.org) on December 29, 2010