This is the second of Scott Nicolson's books I have read (Skull Ring was the other). The RedChurch is a similarly creepy book.
The story centers around a red church that has been abandoned. The rural community says it is haunted by the ghost of a preacher that was hanged by his congregation for heresy. Because this is static rural community the family of both the preacher and his community are still here about six generations later.
The heresy is unique (at least to me.) The preacher said that Jesus was the older of two sons and failed to redeem the world, so God allowed his younger son to come to Earth to redeem what was messed up by Jesus.
Like many cults there is a distortion of Christian faith by the community that continued on the original preacher's legacy. The sacrifice of Jesus is seen as insufficient and the body and blood of the Eucharist are taken as a literal need for body and blood. (Early Christians were often thought to be cannibals because those around the church, but not actually in the church heard the language of the Eucharist, but did not participate in it.) There is also a central idea of sacrifice (like Abraham sacrificing Issac.)
Like I said with Skull Ring, I have not read a lot of horror genre. But I enjoyed the writing and the voice of the book. My internal discussion around the book really centered around the horror genre. I have read Dracula and a variety of Vampire books. Those do not seem "dangerous" for lack of a better word to the Christian faith. But this book was directly discussing heresy. And like many vampire books, the Christian faith discussed in this book was real and very present. In many ways, it was more present than in some Christian fiction books. There is power in the Christian faith and in Jesus that is not of the "self-help" variety.
I need to read some more horror genre books to really explore the ideas that this brings up for me.
RedChurch begins with two boys, Ronnie and Tim, discovering a playboy in the graveyard. This brief beginning of boys will be boys and brotherly squabble is both fun and real, and I'd recommend enjoying it as much as possible because a scene like that won't appear in the book again. This book isn't just about the Red Church: it is obsessed with it.
The story is clearly in the vein of Stephen King, and saying so is really just stating the obvious. The similarities are sometimes striking. The writing will often switch to interior monologues that ramble on and on in incomplete sentences, carrying more a stream of thought designed to convey the character's horror. Sometimes it is effective, sometimes not. At times it worked, while other times it felt obligatory. "Must be a scary part," I'd mutter to myself. "Another italicized monologue."
But the Stephen King similarities are also in Scott's overlaying of both religion and worldly problems upon his characters amidst the supernatural. Ronnie's parents are struggling, with divorce looming in the distance more frightening to Tim than the monster living in the bell tower. Unlike King, however, these matters seldom trump the actual supernatural. In many of King's stories (say, Pet Sematary for example) how the main character deals with the mundane in his life drives him to the supernatural and decides the strength of its power over him. In this, the obsession with the Red Church reduces that.
I guess I should explain what I mean by obsession. We're given the viewpoint of many different characters, and with every one, we gain glimpses to their thoughts. Barring the very beginning, everyone is thinking of the Red Church. They worry about the monster in the bell tower. They worry about the returned son that has taken over the congregation. They discuss the murders. They discuss sacrifice over and over and over. This might not seem a problem, but what this means is that at no point do we see any glimpse of a normal life. Ronnie goes to school, he talks about the bell monster there. When the cop is investigating the case, he's remembering the death of his brother at the Red Church. When we hop into Ronnie's father's head, he's worrying about his wife...but not his relationship to her. Not anything I can relate to: just her involvement with the Red Church.
What precious detours we might get outside this narrow focus tends toward backstory only. So while all this kept the dread of the Red Church omnipresent, it also made it take far, far longer to get a feel for the characters and bond to any of them. Even now, I feel a little fond for Ronnie...and that's it. And maybe Mama Bet, but that's because I'm a little sick in the head (just like Mama Bet).
But despite this (rather shockingly wordy review, my gosh) I haven't touched on the true star of the book, and it ain't the Red Church: it's Archer McFall. The second son, the shapeshifter, master of the bell monster, a messiah of blood and sacrifice so delightfully twisted that if another book were written with him as villain I'd snap it up and vault it to the top of my TBR pile. He's the creature form It, only with a god complex this time. It doesn't matter to me that he swayed people too easily, or that his seeming invulnerability removed a bit of tension from certain scenes. While his true form at the very end may lack grandeur or near as much horror as his earlier renditions, his sweet words remained. For him alone I recommend this book.
Just one complaint: be ready to read the phrase "livers for eyes" about 500 times. It just isn't scary. Nothing at all is scary about the word 'liver' unless the phrase "eat your" is before it. But you'll see it, again and again and again and again, and every time I tried to see it, I saw big gooey human livers glued to a man's face like some goofball let loose in a meat locker playing a practical joke.
Bah. This is long enough as is. If you want psychological horror, where faith matters as much as bullets, where your own mother is tempted to deliver you as a blood sacrifice, and the goals of the Evil are far beyond a few simple killings, then I whole-heartedly recommend Red Church. Or if you like Stephen King. But that should be obvious by now.
Scott Nicholson possesses one of the most distinct- and enjoyable- voices in the horror genre. The RedChurch is perhaps my favorite to date. It swiftly grabs your attention from the first page and drags you on a roller coaster of a journey. Highly recommended.
"Hold onto your pants, because Nicholson is about to scare them off."--J.A. Konrath, Origin
For 13-year-old Ronnie Day, life is full of problems: Mom and Dad have separated, his brother Tim is a constant pest, Melanie Ward either loves him or hates him, and Jesus Christ won't stay in his heart. Plus he has to walk past the redchurch every day, where the Bell Monster hides with its wings and claws and livers for eyes. But the biggest problem is that Archer McFall is the new preacher at the church, and Mom wants Ronnie to attend midnight services with her.
Sheriff Frank Littlefield hates the red church for a different reason. His little brother died in a freak accident at the church twenty years ago, and now Frank is starting to see his brother's ghost. And the ghost keeps demanding, "Free me." People are dying in Whispering Pines, and the murders coincide with McFall's return.
The Days, the Littlefields, and the McFalls are descendants of the original families that settled the rural Appalachian community. Those old families share a secret of betrayal and guilt, and McFall wants his congregation to prove its faith. Because he believes he is the Second Son of God, and that the cleansing of sin must be done in blood.
"Sacrifice is the currency of God," McFall preaches, and unless Frank and Ronnie stop him, everybody pays. ------- A Stoker Award finalist and alternate selection of The Mystery Guild Book Club, my spiritual thriller "The Red Church" explores a boy's struggle with faith when his mother attends a haunted church. Inspired by real-life legends in the Southern Appalachian Mountains where I live, the novel mirrors my own search for faith, love, and deeper mysteries. I hope you'll try my other novels DRUMMER BOY, THE SKULL RING, and SPEED DATING WITH THE DEAD. I invite you to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Amazon Central. Thanks for sharing this journey with me.
---------------------- "Scott Nicholson is the kind of writer who always thrills and always entertains." --Jonathan Maberry, Patient Zero
"Scott Nicholson understands that the best horror novels achieve primal fear through a combination of sustained atmosphere, richly drawn characters, and believable if uncanny evils that draw unholy power from everyday lives. The Red Church is a damn scary story well told." --Christopher Ransom, author of the international bestseller, The Birthing House
"A master of atmospheric suspense." --Eric Wilson, NY Times bestselling novelist
"Scott Nicholson knows the territory. Follow him at your own risk."--Stewart O'Nan, Boston Noir
"Like Stephen King, he knows how to summon serious scares."--Bentley Little, His Father's Son
"Scott Nicholson writes with a mixture of H.P. Lovecraft, Manly Wade Wellman, and Clive Barker."--Kevin J. Anderson, The Dune series
"A wonderful storyteller."--Sharyn McCrumb, The Ballad novels