Scott Nicholson,
The Farm
(Pinnacle, 2006)

Nothing is perfect, but this book has enough concepts and characters that are beyond the call of duty as to overshadow a few imperfections, which might really be just a matter of differing tastes.

OK, let's start at the beginning (usually not a bad place). Or, maybe we'll start before the beginning.

Before the beginning, Katy Logan married Mark Draper, and they had a daughter, Jessica ("Jett"). But, Mark turned out to be a workaholic and he developed a drug problem. After spending a long time (too long?) trying to make it work, Katy divorced Mark, took 11-year-old Jett (who had begun using drugs) and began rebuilding her life. She met Gordon Smith, a professor of comparative religions (specializing in the sects that developed in small communities in Appalachia) and, even though Gordon wasn't very attractive or fun and was a bit pompous, he was stable and could provide a home away from the big city (Charlotte, N.C.) in Gordon's tiny hometown of Solom. Gordon's family has been in Solom for 200 years, and the Smith farm might be just the place for Katy and Jett to find a new, and better, life.

OK, this all leads us to the beginning. Katy and Jett move into Gordon's big, well-kept farmhouse. But why does the smell of lilacs keep following Katy around? Did somebody just whisper, "Do you love him?" Why do things keep falling off the pantry shelf and breaking? Why is Katy becoming obsessed with cooking? Perhaps it's all related to the tragic and accidental (?) death of Gordon's first wife, Rebecca, years ago.

Well, so far we have the Blended Family Story mixed with the House Haunted by the Dead First Wife Story. Both of these themes have been used many times before but, remember this is still the beginning.

Now, let's add two little things to the mix: the Smith family scarecrow, almost a work of farmyard art, seems to move at times. That darn scarecrow was in the barn, no, it was in the field, or was it upstairs stored in a box? And, what the heck is up with the goats? The Smith family has always raised goats, but they have experienced a population explosion that continues beyond the usual rutting season. Oh, and goats aren't usually fascinated by the smell of blood, nor do they usually eat meat and, while often ornery, they seem to be attacking people now. Something is definitely a-hoof, er, afoot.

By now, enough has been added to the story to elevate it beyond a routine ghost story. But, ladies and gentlemen, there is more to come. And, his name is Harmon Smith. Gordon's ancestor came to Solom 200 years ago, as a Methodist preacher come to spread the Word by traveling on his trusty horse, Old Saint, from little village to little village. His home was in Solom, though, and the preachers from the other sects (e.g., Primitive Baptists, Free Will Baptists) were none too thrilled with Harmon's charismatic presence and growing popularity. When Harmon began resurrecting some Old Testament rituals, like boosting the local harvests by doing animal sacrifices, that was going too far. Three of the preachers got together, waylaid Harmon up in the mountains, killed him and buried parts of his body in their three different cemeteries.

Did he stay dead? Did he seek revenge periodically over the decades? I'll reveal no more, as I do not want to spoil it for the readers. I will say that the Circuit Rider (Harmon Smith) is a major factor in this story, and the confrontation near the end is almost apocalyptic.

I mentioned imperfections in the beginning of this piece. They might be more a matter of personal preferences, though. First, I think that the cast of characters is a bit too big, with many residents of Solom included. These characters all play a part, but the plethora does create a bit of a slow start to the story, as they all must be introduced. Also, there is at least one scene where the sexual behavior is too detailed and explicit for me. The scene was necessary, but I would have preferred that the explicitness were toned down. But that might just be me and my personal, family and regional values.

Bottom line: This is a creepy, intricate horror story, with a bit of a slow start, but some amazing characters and concepts that overshadow a few minor imperfections. The Circuit Rider rules!

by Chris McCallister
21 October 2006

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