Scott Nicholson,
The Red Church
(Pinnacle, 2003)

The Red Church is many things rolled into one. It is a modern Appalachian folktale. It is a horror story. It is an examination of religious beliefs, culture, customs and superstitions. It is the story of a man dealing with the guilt associated with his brother's death. And it is the story of a young boy coming of age and struggling with the basic values of good and evil or right and wrong. It even has a love story. This is a book that delivers it all to the reader and keeps you turning pages. I couldn't put it down.

In the 1860s, Rev. Wendell McFall built a church in Barkersville in the Appalachian mountains of western North Carolina. He preached about the Second Son of God, who was sent to Earth to undo everything that Jesus did. But McFall got a bit too involved in his beliefs when he painted the church red and sacrificed a child -- for which the congregation hanged him.

Then, rumors started circulating that the church was haunted. People reported seeing the ghost of the dead man hanging from the tree outside the church and there is plenty of talk about a winged creature that lives in the belfry and attacks people with its tremendous claws.

The book begins with Ronnie and Tim Day finding a dying man in the cemetery of the red church. Tim ventures into the graveyard, even though Ronnie tries to tell him that the horrible winged creature will get them. The story leaps right into the action and never lets up as it describes the new cult of Barkersville, which entangles Archer McFall, Linda McFall and David Day in its web.

The local sheriff, a firm believer in all the Appalachian superstitions, has seen the hanging ghost. He saw the monster in the belfry attack his brother and blames himself for his brother's death. His second-in-command is a valley woman who has been school-trained in all the latest police technology. Like most city folks, she does not believe in the mountain superstitions and horror tales, believing there is a rational explanation for everything. Naturally, this creates tension between the two. As the murder toll rises, the sheriff and investigator must deal with their differences and find some way to solve the crimes.

The numerous subplots are intricately interwoven and will keep your mind fully engaged. It is like getting a dozen stories in one book. Nicholson is a master at keeping the reader in suspense. He dangles little tidbits in front of you and keeps you guessing, without ever revealing too much. An example is the "virgin birth" of Archer McFall. As soon as you read this, you know there is a story to be learned, but Nicholson simply makes quick mentions of it, while keeping you in a high level of suspense. You believe that if you could just learn the truth about this "virgin" birth, you could solve all the mysteries in the book.

The Red Church is one of the best horror books that I have read in years. Scott Nicholson is an extremely skilled storyteller. He is a master of the craft of layering subplots and manipulating tension and intrigue. He has enough gore to satisfy the hardcore horror fans and enough vivid details to scare any reader. If your pulse does not speed up when the monster from the belfry gets involved, you are not a person that can be scared by a book! Nicholson shows the excellence to become a well-known name in the horror genre. I cannot wait until the release of next book, The Harvest.

The Red Church has been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and is on the reader's poll of Locus Magazine in the "Best First Novel" category. I expect we will be seeing much more from Scott Nicholson in the years to come.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
- an Appalachian hillbilly
who believes all those
superstitions and ghost stories
and grew up near
a haunted church

published 7 June 2003

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