By Todd Keisling
Book Release date: June 16th, 2020
Give me that old time religion and it’s good enough for me.
When you turn the last page of Devil’s Creek, by Todd Keisling, you read that despite the completion date being in 2019, the starting date was in 2007. This story made quite a journey in order to get into our hands. Oh, you haven’t ordered a copy yet? Go to it, I’ll be right here. Got it? Good. One of the big obstacles on that journey was finding a publisher willing to invest in a 400 page book. Two acknowledgements need to be made at this point.
First, kudos to Todd Keisling for not compromising and chopping one hundred plus pages off this story. Frankly, it didn’t have the weight to lose. Everything you read in these pages is integral to the final product. Second, kudos to Silver Shamrock for being the type of publisher that says this is a story worth telling and it needs 400 pages to say what it has to say, we’re going to make that happen.
Right from the beginning we’re in high gear. Keisling wastes no time establishing Jacob Masters as an utter creep who has no problem taking advantage of women and children. This is the second really excellent antagonist of 2020 I’ve read who uses religion as a foothold to grasp at power. Masters, however, has backup of the evil, supernatural cosmic variety coming from beneath the Church of the Holy Voices. I said religion before, but this church gathering is unquestionably a cult, and though the book starts off with a demonstration of how depraved these people are, the main focus is on the survivors thirty years later.
Devil’s Creek is Kentucky fried small-town horror done right, although I’m a yankee, what do I know? The way Keisling puts the events together is almost background noise at first while we get to know the people of the town. This execution is inevitably going to draw some Stephen King comparisons, but in a good way. If you can remind people how they felt reading Salem’s Lot for the first time, you are unquestionably doing something right. Getting to know the survivors, the Stauford six, as well as we do is a big reason this novel succeeds, and to drive home an earlier point, if Keisling was forced to cut this world-building and character development, the novel may not have been so successful. Here I’m thinking mainly of Jack and Riley, arguably the two main characters. We spend a lot of time getting to know them outside just the main story, and it truly helps us invest in them. There’s also an argument to be made for Keisling creating one of the most kick-ass female characters we’re likely to read this year in Imogene Tremly.
This is only my second Keisling book after Scanlines, but I’m noticing a bit of a no one is safe, and do be prepared to expect the unexpected theme building. Bad things happen here, and the descriptions are always extremely vivid, calling on all the senses. You can smell the dirt and decay under the church right along with the characters, you can hear the rending and other horrible things being done in some of the more graphic scenes, you can see the
blue eyes glowing in a dark forest, you can taste the dirt being shoved into your mouth. Far be it from me to attempt to predict the future, but this is a novel that just might have what it takes to stand the test of time. Fans of cult, small town, misguided religion, and character- driven horror are all going to find a lot to like here, and I will do my best to feign surprise when Devil’s Creek starts showing up on a lot of best of 2020 lists.
Review by Brennan LaFaro
I received a digital copy from the publisher for review consideration