THE RED CHURCH
This big, fat slice of American Gothic has been haunting my Kindle for the past few nights. It’s one of those ‘can’t wait to get into bed and read’ books. Remember when you were young, and you’d be walking home, but when you got to that house, you know, the haunted one, you’d run hell for leather until you were safely clear? Well the eponymous Red Church takes its place alongside old Hughie Marsten’s house and the Overlook Hotel as somewhere you definitely want to avoid.
Ronnie Day, the young hero of the story, tries his best to steer clear of it, terrified as he is by tales of the Bell Monster and the creepy old hell and brimstone preacher who was found dangling on the end of a rope there. But it always seems to pull him in. It draws in other well-crafted characters, too. Ronnie’s parents are dragged into the church’s creepy clutches, though for wildly different reasons. Sheriff Littlefield, who’s haunted by the death of his young brother at…well, you know. Most terrifyingly of all, it becomes home to a new preacher, Archer McFall – a marvelously malevolent character, like Barlow & Straker combined.
I’m unable to resist dropping in clumsy Stephen King references because that’s who this tale reminds me of. That’s not to say this is just a pastiche. Far from it. Scott Nicholson captures the best of early King – that wonderfully considered, slow build of character and plot that sends the hairs rising. Yet he adds his own distinct style, using his knowledge of the spooky Appalachian mountains to place you firmly in eerie and unsettling backwoods scenarios. To go any further would be to risk stepping into plot-spoiler territory. And this is certainly a tale that you’ll enjoy discovering on your own. Though you might like to have someone there to hold your hand.