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by Wiley Cash
William Morrow, April 2012
320 pages
ISBN: 0062088149

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This story of the fight between good and evil in a church and in the people connected by that church is told by three characters who are both observers and participants in the events. Adelaide leaves the church and takes the children with her when the new pastor, Chambliss, covers the windows in newspapers and brings snake-handling to the congregation. Jess is a nine-year-old boy whose mother is a part of the church and whose brother Christopher gets caught in the middle of the battle for souls. And Clem, the sheriff, has known the town and its inhabitants for over 20 years but is still seen as an outsider.

Adelaide is a confirmed church-goer who begins to question her church but not her faith as Chambliss brings his charismatic influence to bear upon the small town in North Carolina. When a woman dies after handling a snake at church, and the cause of her death is covered up by Chambliss and the church elders, Adelaide takes the children from the church and ministers to them separately. One of those children is a mute boy, Christopher, whose church-going mother hopes for a miracle cure for his condition while his church-avoiding father does not believe in miracles. It is this difference in belief that provides the background for a battle between Adelaide and Chambliss, and in the end results in tragedy for all of the family.

The characterization in this book is some of the strongest I've ever read. The three characters' voices provide windows into their lives and thoughts while at the same time telling the story of powerful events taking place in the small backwoods North Carolina town. As we come to know these three, their insights into the main characters involved in the events bring those characters to life as well.

This book won the 2012 CWA New Blood Dagger Award, so it is clearly identified as a mystery. Yes, there is death in it, and suspense, but I found it to be more of a classic southern novel of human tragedy. It is a strong indictment of religious fanaticism at the same time that it celebrates the transcendent nature of human hope and kindness. This is a book, whether one views it as a mystery or not, that holds its own against the literature of other great Southern authors like Faulkner.

Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, July 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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