People might say horror and religion go well together (particularly among atheist and/or agnostic horror fans), but I personally feel that such a statement is too reductive. When religion is brought into horror as a horrific element, it is often more about fanaticism. Sure, in the Bible, Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son Isaac because God told him to, a parable about loyalty to God, but if Abraham were to sacrifice his son today, Abraham might be not only the subject of a true crime podcast but an example of the dangers of blind obedience. When does faith become dangerous? When does God, or a god, demand too much of us mortals? Such crises of faith, liberally sprinkled with some human trauma, are explored in Craig DiLouie’s novel The Children of Red Peak.
The story begins with a mystery. In the mid aughts, the Family of the Living Spirit, led to Red Peak by the charismatic Reverend Peale, vanish off the face of the earth. A few of their children survive and grow into adulthood, but they are also burdened with trauma, trauma that has defined their adult lives. David works to get people out of cults, but he is himself trapped by his trauma. Deacon is a musician that seeks to use music to express his trauma as well as keep the psychic wound fresh. Beth is a psychologist who helps others, but all the self-medication and theories of the mind leave her wanting. Emily simply decided to stop fighting, and it is the suicide and subsequent funeral that brings the survivors together to try and put the horrors of Red Peak behind them.
The narrative of the story moves back and forth between the past and present. Readers will see how David and his family enter the Family, experience in graphic detail the events at Red Peak, and journey with the survivors as they all try to discover the mystery. DiLouie moves back and forth between past and present, moving among multiple survivor’s points of view, but readers can still follow the thread as well as the themes of faith, trauma, and the daunting meaning of existence. It would be one thing if this was just about some delusional cultists who were led down a dark path, but some of the best horror in this novel comes from DiLouie asking what if those cultists who committed horrific acts in the name of a deity were right? This is definitely a novel for those who like their horror existential, but it may be a surprise gut punch for those simply looking for a deep dive into the dangers of groupthink.