Book Review: Exorcist Falls by Jonathan Janz

For fans of supernatural horror and those looking for a different spin on the classic exorcism tale, Exorcist Falls is certainly worth picking up.”

 

It’s not often that a new novel comes packaged with a prequel novella, providing a compelling backdrop to the story, but that’s exactly what has happened with Exorcist Falls. In the novella, Exorcist Road, readers come face to face with Father Jason Crowder, a young priest who is called on quite unexpectedly to assist his mentor, Father Sutherland, with the rituals of exorcism. The story throws the reader straight in, events unfolding at break-neck pace, as we discover that young Casey Hartman has been infested by a demonic presence. At the same time, the city of Chicago is under siege from the Sweet Sixteen Killer, a serial murderer whose victims are always young girls who have just reached their sixteenth birthday.

The events of Exorcist Road focus in on the characters of the Hartman family and the protagonist, father Crowder. The path of the story follows a fairly classic exorcist tale—with clear influences from the seminal work of William Peter Blatty (acknowledged by the author in the foreword). But the real purpose of the novella is to lay the ground for the drama of the novel and to invest the reader in the characters, ratcheting up the sympathy for their pain as their lives unravel, right from the off, in Exorcist Falls.

And as soon as Exorcist Falls begins, Janz unveils truly dark secrets in two of the most important characters from Exorcist Road. From this moment on, they are on a collision course, but one which must be played out away from plain sight, as their hidden darkness is known only to themselves and to one-another. A great strength of Exorcist Falls is the constancy of the surprises that Jonathan Janz throws at the reader. It’s almost impossible to talk about ‘the reveal’ here, because there are simply so many of them. Attempting to second guess what will happen next is rendered futile, forcing you to just keep on reading to learn the ghoulish truth. Another impressive element of the text is the attention to detail—both in terms of the demonic presence and its behaviours, clearly very well researched, as even a cursory look into real life possession accounts will attest—and also the portrayal of violence. At times the scenes of cruelty and bloody combat are so graphic that the reader may find themselves looking away from the page in disgust. But at the same time, the way such scenes are depicted betrays an impressive artfulness.

If there is anywhere that Exorcist Falls is lacking, it is perhaps in the characters. Too many of them are picked from classic tropes and offer little in the way of originality. The priest-protagonist, Father Crowder, is a man who joins the faith as a result of a pseudo-oedipal fear of women which, at times, spills over into uncomfortable lechery, Ron Hartman (Casey’s father) is a stereotypically cold, amoral stockbroker and his wife a classic trophy-woman who then inhabits the character of strong, independent woman in a way that is perhaps a bit too forced.

These minor gripes aside, though, Exorcist Falls is a rollercoaster ride of a novel, contains some artfully constructed prose—even in those moments with the most bloody and visceral content. The bundling together of this book with the novella prequel adds real gravity to the story and to our relationship with the characters of the book, not to mention providing excellent value for would be buyers. For fans of supernatural horror and those looking for a different spin on the classic exorcism tale, Exorcist Falls is certainly worth picking up.

KEV HARRISON

Publisher: Sinister Grin Press
Paperback (458 pp)
Release Date: 14 March 2017

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