This is my third book by the horror master Bentley Little and I’m not sure I’m seeing patterns now or whether Mr. Little found a formula that worked and now he’s following it book by book. It starts off with something bad happening (in this case, loads of goats found slaughtered and the churches in the area desecrated and with an ominous message written in blood on them), then some people go missing (in this case it was the reverend and his family). Then we start getting into the story with multiple POV’s. This was the interesting part as you start to piece together a case that looks like Satanic rituals and then the Supernatural kicks in. A preacher appears out of nowhere foretelling the end of days and a final battle between God and Evil to take place in the small town of Randall. Why this place? Because Evil is rooted in some places and it appears regularly there. See Derry.
The sheriff, the writer and the new reverend join this mystical preacher in his attempt to destroy the evil that covers this town and found the secret of why it gained so much power – it was feeding off discarded babies. Aborted babies, miscarriages, abandoned due to malformed bodies or handicaps. And there were thousands.
This is where the creep factor kicks in: the dead babies are brought back to life and are sent to kill people (85 deaths by the end of the book). Imagine creepy, crawling, cackling miscarried babies killing adults and children, biting their bodies, turning their insides out. Yep, good horror.
The Good bits
There is something scary about the idea of a primordial evil (It reminded me of the description it got in Dexter) and it was quite interesting how the apocalyptic preacher was a tool of Good even though in all of his descriptions he seems to hide a secret and appear “twisted” in some way.
The ending was quite short for the build-up but I must say it was creative. They used the local reverend’s paranormal abilities to channel the evil and then they whispered the exorcism in his ear. Killing the reverend in the process.
The bad bits
The characters are bland. Our protagonists–an overwhelmed sheriff, a blue collar laborer with a baby on the way, an Episcopal priest with light ESP–though lacking much personality, are at least stalwart about performing their civic duty to sniff out and then snuff out the source of all this devilry. Secondary characters abound as locals are mangled and their stillborns shanghaied, but otherwise these natives add little more to the narrative other than incident and a body count.
The story has some plot holes – ie. what would they have done if the reverend allocated in place of the missing one was lacking ESP? How come the husband didn’t tell the pregnant wife the extent of the threat so she could make an informed decision and leave town rather than give an indicative that something bad will happen?
And when the reverend dies, it seems like he was actually a minor character and he gets swept under the rug quite immediately. Yep, he’s dead, move on. They don’t keep the travelling preacher for interrogation either. I mean, if it was me, I would have loved to give him to the Church so that they can question him about the language used during the exorcism so that if this thing happened again they would be more prepared.
Supposedly this was Little’s first book. It won the Bram Stoker award for best first novel. For a first novel, I would have to say it was very good.
The book uses every horror cliche possible (dead zombie babies, desecrated churches, gross in parts (I mean eating a dried out fetus while drinking fresh blood?) but it’s still an entertaining read. 2/5
Update: it seems that child sacrifices and abandonment of the maimed or deformed had been practiced as a massive child burial ground was discovered recently:
Article: Scientists believe they just discovered the largest known child sacrifice in human history
Scientists believe they just discovered the largest known child sacrifice in human history