Somewhere within the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina The Red Church stands. A beast of Author Scott Nicholson’s creation haunts its surrounding community. Locals are found dead in the fields; their bodies mauled to pieces. It is tempting to blame mountain lions for such tragedies, but forensics clears these creatures. They just aren’t capable of doing the kind of damage.
There is another explanation. But it is rather farfetched. It is based on an old community ghost story involving the abandoned Red Church. But ten-year-old Ronnie Day believes the legends. So does Sheriff Frank Littlefield. Both have seen witnessed strange occurrences at this church.
Think for a moment about this archetypal horror scenario: A beast or phantom nests within a hidden compartment of a familiar site. It could be a bat that dwells in the loft of a rundown barn – a bat that haunts the night! Or maybe it’s a raccoon that lives under your porch – watch out for those glowing eyes! More common is the raven that rests on the archway of the front door, or the troll that hides under the bridge.
Here’s a new one for you: how about a dark figure that appears inside a church’s belfry. It has wings and sharp claws. It has livers for eyes. Sometimes the bell rings when this phantom materializes, which is quite a feat since the church no longer has a rope to activate a bell. This is the legendary phantom of The Red Church. It is this phantom Sheriff Littlefield fears is responsible for the killings. Naturally the detective he works with is skeptical of this theory. But Littlefield has lost his younger brother to this beast many years ago when a prank at the Red Church went terribly wrong.
If this isn’t scary enough for you, there is creepy cemetery in front of the church. Also, there is a humongous dogwood tree that hovers beside the church. The ghost of a hanged preacher from long ago is known to materialize on a tree branch from time to time.
This is a chilling book. The reviews are mostly positive. However, you can’t please everybody, especially those who are easily offended. There is a strong religious theme to this book. The novel’s antagonist, Archer McFall, claims to be The Second Son of God. He reopens The Red Church and seeks to preach “his truth” – that Jesus is evil and he, Archer, is the true savior. There are some negative reviews on account of this “sacrilege.” Strangely enough, there are negative reviews that go in the opposite direction, complaining the book is too “preachy” and that its hidden message is that “Jesus saves”. To both sides of the argument, I shout a loud and droning “Ohhhh please!!!!!”
I enjoyed this novel and I’m going to pay it a rather strange compliment – It’s a fun, cozy read. How, you may ask, can a novel that borders on “sacrilege” (“I thought it bordered on “preachy”. “I thought it…” Shut up! Your thoughts are stupid!) be “cozy?” Furthermore, how can a novel about a bell tower phantom with wings and liver eyes make me feel “cozy?” For one thing, I’m a bit weird. Let’s get that out of the way. But there are other reasons. It’s a straightforward tale spun in the familiar setting of small town Americana. The characters are folksy but the ghosts are creepy. I can lie out in the summer and read this with a cool glass of lemonade or sit back indoors in the cool winter and take this book in with a warm cup of cocoa. It works on all fronts.
This is Scott Nicholson’s first book. (He now has over twenty novels). It is excellent for a debut novel. The reason for this is that Nicholson is obeying an old rule or writing: write what you know. Nicholson resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains and he is in command of his setting. In the nitty-gritty details of the story we see local politics in action and the god-fearing behaviors of religious folks. We learn of the speaking mannerisms of a chaw chewing farmer. We learn of the family clans. All this Nicholson writes with confidence. It’s his town and he’s welcoming us to it, which is another reason I say the book is “cozy”.
This is also the first novel featuring Sheriff Frank Littlefield. The second is Drummer Boy, which is about ghosts of soldiers that spill out from a cave on the eve of the annual civil war reenactment. Drummer Boy is a good book as well, but I will not review it as part of this blog since it does not deal with a haunted house. However, I have read other Haunted House novels by Nicholson. These are The Home and Creative Spirit. I hope to write about these soon.