By Todd Keisling
Book releases June 16th 2020
Jacob Masters preaches to his congregation at Devil’s Creek, but he doesn’t preach from the Bible. Instead, his are the words of a nameless god, who demands pain and sacrifice. When the church burns to the ground following a mass suicide, there are few survivors. Those who walk away include Jacob’s six children and their grandparents.
Years later, after the death of his grandmother, Jack Tremly returns home to Stauford, to take care of her estate. His life with Jacob fuelled a successful art career, but as he reconnects with his siblings, they discover not all who die remain buried.
What I say next might not totally seem linked, but it is, so keep with me. Many years ago, I attended a horror convention in Cardiff (and I still mourn the fact it stopped after a couple of years). There was a movie panel, with a Big Studio Guy and a few indie filmmakers. Big Studio was late, so his assistant stepped in but said little, giving the impression he was more interested in hearing what the others had to say. One question was about trends – what do you think the next trend will be?
Their answer has always stuck with me. They explained that to identify what will trend next with big budget films, look at what horror indie filmmakers were doing. Horror has never needed huge budgets, so studios were always interested in what could be done well on a small scale. At the time, they said a lot of indie films were about possessions, demons and ghosts. All very interesting. Big Studio arrived, after this discussion, and he was asked the same question.
“Creature Features.” He explained the studios were pumping money into things like Godzilla, and to expect a boom in those sorts of films in the next few years. And you could see the looks on other people’s faces. If Creature Features like Godzilla were big, it wasn’t necessarily a trend in horror. And the next big horror films to come out? The Conjuring. Sinister. The Babadook.
Since becoming more involved in the horror community, and being exposed to more indie horror creators, I think this applies to the book world, too. Indie is where horror thrives, and Devil’s Creek is no exception. I always see agents and big publishers trying to pinpoint trends in horror, and I wish I could reach through the medium to them and scream, “Look at the indie world!” In this world, right now, cults seem to be a running theme.
And it makes sense. Cults show a desire to belong, a connection with a community especially to those who may have been ostracised from others. But the exploration of them in horror shows the fear of losing one’s own identity, too. The worst thing to happen in to the characters in Devil’s Creek is to become one of the mindless horde following Jacob Masters to their deaths. Keisling effectively preys on these fears, while also exploring what drove the children’s mothers – and Jacob himself – into the cult in the first place.
In the years since the church burned down, Master’s children sought different paths. The two we mainly follow – and root for – both crave their own identity, finding ways to explore their trauma through art and music. And by either leaving the judgemental town behind, or finding ways to rile them up.
The elements used to show these – to show the paths of individuality versus conformity – blend together really well. Keisling is a master of tense moments, of constantly dangling the idea of escape before the characters and readers. And of giving true moments of hopelessness. This is a novel that shines, and which says something on individuality, conformity, love, and loss, under the umbrella of cults and dark gods. Without a doubt, this is a book any horror fan will delight in reading.
And next time someone asks what’s going to be the next mainstream horror novel, tell them to look at what the indies like Keisling and Silver Shamrock are putting out, first.
Review by Elle Turpitt
I received this e-book from Silver Shamrock for review consideration.