After my attempt to read Ramsey Campbell's body of work went bust (The Doll Who Ate His Mother's popularity befuddles me, and I gave up on The Face That Must Die after realizing that none of the characters were in any way likable), I started looking for other horror authors to read or re-read. I remembered Rick Hautala and Ray Garton were writers I once followed, but then I remembered Bentley Little's curious style of horror, and that I had read only a couple of his books, and decided that he would be the best place to start.
I was surprised to find out that this was a re-read for me. I read it way back in 1999, and don't remember much of anything about it. I would have thought that some of the imagery would have stood out to me, but nothing pinged my recall. The story is enough of a run-of-the-mill supernatural, religious-war-between-good-and-evil horror story to not stand out for being unique, but it's still an entertaining, gripping read. I see that I also read two other Little books over the years, neither of which I can recall, so I get the feeling what makes Little's fiction stand out is how he tells the story, not the story itself. Of course, I haven't made it to The Mailman yet, so maybe that will change my mind.
Little has a natural style that's reminiscent of Stephen King. The two styles are distinct enough to be unique, but it was always easy to pick up the book and catch up with the events. His characterization skills are great; he populates the novel with a lot of characters, and none of them feel like copies of each other, nor are they forgettable. There were moments where a minor character's name is mentioned, and I couldn't remember who he or she was, but Little provided enough context to jar my memory. For such a large cast, this was helpful.
The trick to writing a good horror novel is to create a world where the supernatural events follow some set of rules, and stick to those. Random events and sudden revelations without any foreshadowing can ruin a good spooky story, but Little avoids that. A lot of important information is conveyed through dreams, but the supernatural as Little creates it supports that kind of communication. There's also the need for effective scares and a high creep factor, and the novel has that, as well. Some of the scenes felt gratuitously violent, but what made them effective was the oddity, the sense of things in the normal world being a little off. There was just enough atmosphere to the story to make it appropriately brooding, without it being dense with detail.
The story still isn't perfect. The main character is married to a woman who played a major roles in the events, but she wasn't written to be a main character. She was realized enough for the reader to connect to her, but not so much as to make her a major player in the events, even though her role was important. Plus, her character is inconsistent. Without giving anything away, she reacts strongly to a major event in her life, but within a few chapters, she's supportive and accepting of it, and by the end of the story, it becomes her major motivation. It seemed a little off.
This was Little's first published book, though, so I can forgive much of that. The story told is a good one, enough so that I don't have any hesitation to read more of his books.