Stephen Friedman, a real estate agent in Southern California in the 1970s, has long suppressed his curiosity about his Jewish heritage and the family that he presumably lost during the Holocaust. But that changes, and dramatically so, with the death of an elderly Jewish woman who lived nearby. Not only does Friedman discover that the woman was his mother, he also learns that she possessed a priceless relic that she left to a local Holocaust museum. What's more, she cryptically indicated that she knew where the remaining relics in the set --- the five stones of David --- were hidden. Her death marks the beginning of Friedman's race to find the stones and uncover the truth about himself, his family, and their concentration camp friends.
Meanwhile, Roth Braun, the son of the commandant of the camp where Friedman's mother was detained, is also on a quest to retrieve the stones --- and with them, the power he believed his father lost to the Jews. He and his thugs manage to stay one step ahead of Friedman throughout much of the book, and they catch up quickly enough when Friedman seems to have gained an advantage over them.
That storyline is interwoven with the story of a courageous and strong group of women in the 1940s who are forced to make difficult decisions at the Polish concentration camp where Braun's father controls their lives. The decisions the women make have long-lasting ramifications that continue to affect the lives of their descendants decades later in America.
That's the basic plot line, though of course there's much more to it. As usual, Ted Dekker has written a fast-paced page-turner, and that definitely works in his favor. Because if you slow down and really think about what's going on, you're going to have a lot of "Hold it" moments --- as in "Hold it, that doesn't make sense" or "Hold it, that would never happen." It's frustrating, because Dekker really is a good writer. He's just so, well, obsessed with writing that he's turning out books too quickly and not taking the time to make them the best they can possibly be. It's beginning to feel as if he runs his plots and characters through a computer program that sorts it all out and spits out a novel. A good novel, but still.
On the plus side, the women in the concentration camps are interesting, multidimensional, and believable. Certain plot devices also work well, such as the access Friedman's job gives him to his deceased mother's apartment building, if only temporarily, and his discovery of the ideal lookout spot in an abandoned building across the street.
On the down side, Dekker allows Christianese to intrude on the story and uses far too much exposition --- especially of Christian belief and doctrine --- in dialogue. Most of the dialogue spoken by the hippies Friedman meets in the abandoned building is inauthentic and downright laughable. And at times, it felt as if elements of 1973 pop culture were thrown in at regular intervals only to lend an air of realism, which seldom worked. (In one scene, Friedman snaps his fingers to James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend" and somehow doesn't die of boredom in the process. It's not exactly a snappy tune.)
OBSESSED will undoubtedly be another blockbuster success for Dekker. And that's a shame, because that kind of success may just blind him to the potential he has to be a great writer.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on February 10, 2005