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The Red Church    by Scott Nicholson order for
Red Church
by Scott Nicholson
Order:  USA  Can
Pinnacle, 2002 (2002)

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* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

When Reverend Wendell McFall built the Red Church in 1860, his sermons espoused that Jesus was an impostor and that it was time to make way for God's Second Son. He would rise within the walls of the red church, defeat the First and then initiate a cleansing for the righteous. But when the reverend sacrificed a newborn child, his flock realized he'd gone too far and they hung him high in the belfry of his own church. Ever since that day the ghost of the 'hung preacher' has haunted the red church and has sometimes taken the unwary or the curious.

In the years and decades that follow, citizens of Whispering Pines North Carolina all have recollections of the Red Church. Sheriff Frank Littlefield remembers that awful Halloween night when his little brother Samuel was taken by the hung preacher. Though he wanted to believe it a terrible accident like everyone said, every night in his dreams he sees the nightmarish vision of the wraith-like thing that reached out and took Samuel's soul. When Frank is called in to investigate the grisly deaths of locals, all his old fears about the Red Church re-surface. Is it coincidence that people are dying in terrible and gruesome ways? Or is it because charismatic church leader Archer McFall has come back home to preach his own special version of the Lord's word?

Scott Nicholson has written the kind of book that's rare these days -- a good old fashioned scary story. Shadowy wraiths, ritual sacrifice, ghosts, haunted cemeteries and religious zealotry -- it's all there in The Red Church, not to mention good pacing and great atmosphere. And fine characterizations are the heart of this well-told tale. Mr. Nicholson introduces various characters to tell his spooky and atmospheric story. Frank Littlefield knows he must deal with evidence and logic but also vividly remembers exactly what he saw the night his brother died. Sheila Storie is a former big city detective who isn't yet used to the quiet and sometimes odd things that go on in rural Appalachia.

Young Ronnie Day is suffering not only a test of faith, but also the break-up of his parents, David and Linda. They are two of only a few others who know the real reason why Archer McFall has come home to Whispering Pines. Mama Bet has made great sacrifices to ensure her son Archer, descendent of the infamous hung preacher takes his rightful place within the Red Church. And of course there's Archer himself, a character whose true nature is revealed early but whose real motives are kept nicely ambiguous until the book's grisly, action-packed and satisfying ending.

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