“Revival,” by Stephen King. Scribner, 416 pages.
In “Revival,” Stephen King brings us the creepiest preacher since the Poltergeist franchise. With his perfect eye for the unsettling offshoots of American culture, he swoops in for a close look at one of those faith-healing tent revivals, replete with gospel choirs and miracle cures.
We see Charlie Jacobs through the eyes of Jamie Morton, beginning in the 1960s when 6-year-old Jamie meets the new preacher who’s mostly sane, except for a slight obsession with electricity. Through the decades as Jamie stumbles through the ups and downs of life as a musician, he follows Charlie’s weird progress to fame as a faith healer, and to a Lovecraftian finale that is hinted at all along, with the trademark Stephen King foreshadowing.
It’s a good, scary story, but it’s so much more. Every page is a treasure trove of detail about daily life in America, in the 1960s or whatever decade King’s story lights on. There are tiny stories within stories, and headlines, road signs, soapsuds, state fairs, storefronts … it’s pure poetry. Take your time with it.
“Risky Undertaking,” by Mark de Castrique. Poisoned Pen Press, 258 pages.
Barry Clayton, the policeman/undertaker, returns to explore yet another little-known (to me at least) oddity of life in North Carolina: the strange mix of ancient tribal culture and 21st-century glitz that is an Indian casino.
Barry is at the opening ceremony for a new cemetery extension when the discovery of Indian artifacts shuts down the site. A Cherokee activist is found dead on top of a new grave, and while Barry and the tribal police are investigating, the arrival of a Boston hit man at the casino begins a new investigation that requires Barry and his wife to go undercover at Harrah’s. (I’m picturing a nice little research expedition to get all those details just right.)
As always, Mark de Castrique gives us plenty of local color, local characters, and local politics in a plotline about real-life struggles over efforts to bring in new casinos.
“The Girl Next Door,” by Ruth Rendell. Scribner, 288 pages.
When homebuilders unearth a pair of severed hands in an old cookie tin – a man’s hand and a woman’s hand – it begins to jog the memories of a group of people who played in a set of tunnels on the site as children during World War II.
We readers are in on the murderer’s identity from the first chapter, but the former playmates all unknowingly hold different pieces of the puzzle in their memories, and we watch as they fit the pieces together gradually. The discovery starts a chain of events that changes several of their lives, and the characters more than once reflect on the way the discovery of the hands affected them.
The elderly friends and the children they once were show how love and the lack of it can shape or haunt an entire lifetime.