A new book from Chet Williamson is a cause for celebration. Why? Well, first and foremost because he's one of the very best to ever put pen to page or fingers to keyboard, but it's also a cause célèbre because it hasn't happened that often recently. His last book was 2007's The Story of Noichi the Blind from Cemetery Dance Publications, one of the best novellas any reader is likely to find anywhere. His oeuvre includes classic novels like Soulstorm, Ash Wednesday, and Lowland Rider, and over 100 short stories published in places like The New Yorker, Playboy, Esquire, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the best of which are collected in the International Horror Guild Award-Winning Figures in Rain. As readers, we are doubly lucky this year because Crossroad Press released not one but two new Chet Williamson novels: Hunters and Defenders of the Faith, the subject of this review.
Defenders of the Faith follows Paul Blair – a pious man, strong in his faith and convictions, loving husband, and soon to be father – as his world falls apart. When his wife and unborn child are killed in a tragic accident, Paul devotes his life to God, and to protecting the children in his church. To do this, he listens to gossip, and spends his evenings watching over their homes. When one boy is kidnapped, Paul hunts down the kidnapper and murders him, all in an effort to save the boy, Peter Hurst.
This event, however, has tragic consequences for both Paul and Peter.
Years later, Paul finds himself forced to murder again, just as Peter discovers a fascination with guns and violence and God that takes over his life. As detective Olivia Feldman attempts to track down the man she knows is behind both murders, the bodies begin to pile up, and Paul and Peter join forces, forming an almost familial bond.
But is Peter too out of control?
While the central ideas in Defender of the Faith – religious fanaticism and serial killers – are nothing new to horror fiction, they are handled refreshingly well here. It would have been easy for Williamson to make Paul and Peter monsters, or to make their faith so over-the-top that it became a parody of true religious devotion, but he doesn't do either. Chet's too good a writer for that.
All three main characters, Paul, Peter, and Detective Feldman, are fully realized. The reader fears for those being killed, but also feels for the killers, at times rooting for them – even when the reader knows they shouldn't.
This isn't a simple tale. It is full of contradictions, in the way that life is full of contradictions. There is no distinct line between good and bad and right and wrong. As a study of a truly tragic character, Defenders of the Faith is one of modern horror's best examples.
If you're a Williamson fan, pick this up. If you've never read Chet before, Defenders of the Faith is a great way to introduce yourself to one of the true masters of horror fiction. Either way, give it a read. You won't regret it.
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