I do not know if the print book would come across as magnificently as the audio book, but the readers, Mark Bramhall, Lorna Raver, and Nick Sullivan, perfectly captured the spirit of the characters they portrayed. They literally became Adelaide Lyle, Jess Hall and Clem Barefield. Through their marvelous voices, with just the right tone and expression, all of the characters, major and minor, had personalities that brought them to life, and as a result, the listener was immersed so completely in the story, it was hard to withdraw from the narrative, hard to put the book down. Although the language was descriptive, it was plain and folksy, fitting the setting and the times. The prose painted clear pictures of the scenes so that the reader was a voyeur, allowed to glimpse the action from the sidelines, even almost participating in it. The author’s pen was lyrical, without being sappy, though some of that exceptional quality might actually be attributable to the readers’ voices and portrayals, as well.
When the book begins, Adelaide Lyle is explaining the origin of the church she once belonged to and describing her reasons for leaving it. The church tested the believers faith by exposing them to venomous snakes*, poisonous drinks and even trial by fire. It was taught that with strong enough faith, they could face any trial and not be harmed; their G-d would protect them. Pastor Carson Chambliss, the leader of this atypical place of charismatic worship, had an unsavory, questionable past, but he had somehow mesmerized and convinced these simple folk to follow him on his misguided path. When a female worshiper was bitten by a snake while attempting to prove her faith, Adelaide had had enough. She thought it bad enough that they encouraged the woman to test her faith, but it was worse when they left her in her garden to die so that no one would know what had happened to her there in the church. To prevent anyone from seeing what went on inside, the windows were covered over with newspaper.
A little more than a decade passes, during which time although Adelaide stops attending services, she also removes the children to protect them from witnessing the bizarre events that take place inside the church. She entertains and teaches them on the days of church service. One of the children, teased by others, is autistic. His name is Christopher Hall, 13 years old, but everyone calls him Stump. He has never spoken a word. When the church intervenes to try and heal him, tragedy ensues and secrets of the past and present rise to the surface, become exposed, and bring about all sorts of disastrous consequences. Jess, 9 years old, is Stump’s younger brother. Jess and his brother have witnessed some pretty frightening things, while disobeying rules. Jess is afraid to tell anyone for fear of being punished by their mother, Julia, or their father, Ben. Ben was estranged from his own father, Jimmy. After a tragic incident, Jimmy disappeared for years, abandoning Ben. As present day events take a new tragic turn in their lives, Jimmy returns to witness the events. Stump’s mom, Julia, had taken him to church, prompted by the Pastor whom she adored, so that he might be healed. During the first healing session, she believed that she heard him speak for the first time, and so, she took him again. What follows exposes a whole slew of secrets in their lives.
Clem Barefield is the sheriff of this backwoods town in North Carolina, and he has always blamed Jimmy Hall for the death of his son in a tragic accident. What goes around comes around, and whether or not you believe in divine justice, it sure seemed like it was payback time for the backwoods community that was ripe for the likes of Carson Chambliss, whom they followed blindly and obediently. There is no shortage of evil men as history will attest to, and Chambliss seemed to be one of those damaged human beings. This story, from beginning to end, will capture the reader!
* [“Practitioners believe serpent handling dates to antiquity and quote the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke to support the practice: And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:17-18)
Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:19)