I find myself, yet again, of being able to appreciate the way a book is written while still disliking the book.
The good stuff – the small town in upstate New York, Aurelius, is brilliantly portrayed as a cauldron of fear, doubt and paranoia as three teenaged girls disappear over the course of a few months. The discovery of their bodies, in the prologue, shows us the what and where, but not the who or why. So, with the so-called “important stuff” – the bodies’ discovery – out of the way right at the start, the author then takes us through the whole story. From the beginning. Because the real horror in this story is not the dead girls,
but the cataclysmic way the town disintegrates once the townsfolk realize there’s a killer among them.
The careful, even loving, attention that Dobyns lavishes on his large cast of characters reminded me of how Stephen King populates a story, and so it didn’t bother me. I liked, too, how the author took his time to show us the town’s decline into vigilantism and madness once the killings/disappearances started. Dobyns treats us to his acutely perceptive vision of a town on the edge in a way that is both realistic and chilling. The self-appointed “police helpers” vigilante group was especially creepy, and totally believable.
My main gripe with this story is, once again, the unreliable first person narrator. This narrator – who is sort of revealed very near the goddamned end of the story – as a nameless, gay, male high school biology teacher,
knows things about the characters and events in this story that only an omniscient, third-person narrator would know.
But what do I know?
I’ll tell you what I know. I know that on page 242, Chapter Friggin’ 30, the book falls into a limited omniscient POV for awhile, and then slips into an omniscient POV for awhile, and then back into the first person for some chapters. This is kind of the problem with slow, cerebral “thrillers” like this – not only do they encourage you to slow down and think, you actually do just that. And that’s when you notice stuff like this. I have to say, though; even before I saw the POV shift, I was getting increasingly annoyed with this mystery narrator – who the hell is this person, and when am I going to meet him/her?
Despite this kind of trivial stuff, the story is top-notch. It is a different kind of horror story that still manages to include sympathetic victims, a crazy serial killer, and a lot of suspense and misdirection.
It also has a great title. It’s just not the kind of horror story I was expecting or hoping for.
Dobyns, Stephen. The Church of Dead Girls. Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1997. Print.