Book Review: The Red Church by Scott Nicholson (Series, #1)
The Red Church was the base of a new cult started by Wendell McFall in the 1860s. But when he took things too far and sacrificed a child, his congregation hung him from a tree. Nowadays, the children of the town view the Red Church as haunted…and so do some of the adults. When Wendell’s descendant, Archer, returns to his hometown from California, he brings the cult back with him in a new form. Archer claims he is the second son of God, and that Jesus was the first son who failed to deliver God’s true message. When he reclaims the Red Church and murders start occurring, half the town suspects Archer, while the other half falls under his spell.
This book was loaned to me by someone who really enjoyed the series. For most of the book, I felt that it was well-written horror but of a religious bent that isn’t for me. However, the ending doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the book.
At the beginning, the book feels like a horror story written by a Baptist person truly committed to their faith. The main antithesis to Archer’s cult is the Baptist church in town. At the core of the conflict are a married couple. The wife falls firmly under Archer’s spell while the husband stays true to the Baptist church. Their two small boys are caught in the middle. The most interesting parts of the story are when the third person narrator focuses in on these two boys, showing their crises of faith and the siren call of the cult, as well as the confusion engendered when their mother and father fight over religion. I could definitely see this reading as a richly crafted, frightening horror for someone who is Baptist, or at least Protestant, themselves. For the non-Christian or non-religious reader, however, the frequent mentions of Jesus, capitalizing pronouns referring to God, and attempts at creating horror at the mere idea of not following Jesus fail to aid in establishing the horror. They become something to skim past rather than part of the atmosphere of the book.
For most of the book, the basic plot of Archer versus the family and the sheriff and the crime scene detective flows nicely with just the right touch of horror. Toward the end of the book, just who Archer is and what precisely is going on becomes muddled. A lot of what happens with Archer and his church just doesn’t make a lick of sense. In spite of the religious leanings of the book, I was still engaged and wanting to solve the mystery of Archer. Instead, who he is and what the rules of the world are become increasingly muddled. The ending generally should clear things up, not leave things more confusing than they were before. That kind of confusing ending would be disappointing to anyone who read the book.
I also was disappointed by one particular aspect of the ending. A person who was abusive gets forgiven because forgiveness is what the Baptist church teaches. It bothers me when books brush off abuse as something just getting Jesus in your heart can fix. It’s misleading and dangerous to encourage people to think that way. Granted, this is a horror book, so it’s doubtful many children will be reading it, but that still doesn’t make it a good message.
The characters are interesting and widely varied. The children, particularly, are well-written. The scenes are well-envisioned and communicated. I never had any issues imagining any of the scenes vividly.
Overall, this is a well-written horror book that flounders a bit at the end. It is richly steeped in the Baptist faith. As such, I recommend it most highly to Protestant horror fans who don’t mind a bit of a confusing ending that doesn’t answer all the questions.
2 out of 5 stars