Devil's Creek, Todd Keisling: A Review
If I'm grateful for anything on social media, it's the wonderful book recommendations I take from the horror community. Silver Shamrock puts out some excellent titles (if you haven't read Jeremy Hepler's Cricket Hunters, I highly recommend fixing that) and after seeing some of my favorite humans on Twitter rave about Devil's Creek, I couldn't wait to dive in.
Told in alternating POVs and timelines, Devil's Creek follows the Stauford Six, six children who survived an abusive, suicidal religious colony (with some demonic, supernatural tendencies) led by Jacob Masters, as they unexpectedly reunite following the death of Imogene, Jack's grandmother and protector of the children. But things in Stauford can never be simple, and a malevolent force begins infecting the town, reigniting Jacob's plan, hell-bent on finishing the ceremony interrupted all those years ago.
Phew, where to start other than to say I loved this book. Sometimes, I'm wary of texts focusing on religion, not because I find the subject matter offensive, but because they can get preachy, condemning, or revert to stereotypes. It's impossible to read Devil's Creek, however, without embracing the religious fervor. Keisling did an excellent job portraying the nuanced emotions involved in religious worship. On the surface, you have the symbolic nature of the infection, for lack of a better word, people running on "blind faith," unable to question morality or righteousness beyond their devotion to the "lord." This is evident even before the climactic series of events bringing our Six together, where people are compelled to send death threats to a radio DJ playing rock music (because where Slayer and Alice in Chains are played, is obviously breeding grounds for the devil, dontcha know) and appearances matter just as much as fact when it comes to religious piety.
Keisling's character arcs are masterfully executed, as complex as they are authentic. I particularly enjoyed the fact that this book isn't restrained to a typical demographic, with important characters spanning generations. Imogene was one of my favorites, as were Jack, Riley, and Stephanie. I appreciated the hometown dynamics; those childhood grudges helped to ground the narrative in the wake of some pretty spiritual and horrific happenings, and the brief foray into humorous quips was welcome. This book definitely touches on some sensitive, even taboo subjects, including hate crimes, rape, pedophilia, incest, and domestic abuse, so be forewarned that there might be some triggering events.
Additionally, this is a visually gripping text. Keisling's descriptions are visceral and disturbing. At times, I was reminded of my favorite parts of Stephen King's It and the Losers Club and Insidious. There's no shortage of shocking horror, but there are also several quietly-terrifying moments, scares that sneak up on you or images that are just plain unsettling. I did find some parts to read a little dense and repetitive, and I wish there was a clearer connection between the town's sordid history and the "present day" happenings, but this didn't hinder the conclusion for me in any way.
Overall, Devil's Creek is a taut, creepy read with plenty of things to keep you up at night. I also recommend checking out Keisling's interview on Ink Heist Podcast.
Big thanks to Silver Shamrock Publishing for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.