Welcome to Rick’s Read-Along. A new series presented by Horror Oasis where I visit an author’s back catalogue and encourage you, the reader, to read along with me.  I will publish my thoughts on each book every two weeks, while also announcing the next book I’ll be reading. Every author selected will be someone whose back catalogue is readily available and is somebody we feel our readers will enjoy discovering along with us. I hope that you’ll all join me in sharing your thoughts.

In this latest instalment, to mark the occasion of the recent release of the final book in the series, I’ll be reading the cult horror ‘Father of Lies’ trilogy by Steve Stred. Stred is a prolific writer of dark fiction, whose books include ‘Pieces of Me’, ‘The Window in the Ground’, ‘Of Witches…’ and ‘The Future in the Sky’. As well as being an independent author of horror fiction, Steve has written hundreds of reviews supporting the genre via Kendall Reviews and is a proud supporter of the Ladies of Horror Fiction and their Annual Writers Grant. Visit his website at stevestredauthor.wordpress.com

As part of this latest read-along series, I will be reading the ‘Father of Lies’ trilogy, made up of the three novellas ‘Ritual’, ‘Communion’ and ‘Sacrament’. Telling the story of a mysterious cult, told through the eyes of both its members and those on the outside. The books offer a pitch-black insight into the inner workings of a dangerous and violent sect, dealing with themes of manipulation and faith. A warning before we start, the trilogy features scenes of extreme violence, some of which is of a sexual nature. I would urge anyone who may be triggered by such content to take this into consideration before picking up this series. 

As these articles are intended to encourage people to read these books along with me there will obviously be spoilers ahead, although I will strive to keep them minor and avoid spoiling major reveals or twists along the way for those who haven’t read it yet.

Communion picks up shortly after Ritual left off, shifting focus from the ill-fated Brad and his church, to police Detective McKay, who is assigned to the case of the mass suicide committed by the congregation in the finale of book one. It promises to be a very different take and a brand-new perspective of the events of the series, focusing in on somebody investigating the cult from the outside as opposed to learning about it from within.

Any notion that this new perspective will be an objective one, or that we will get a more standard protagonist this time around is quickly dispelled within the first chapter. While Brad was undoubtedly indoctrinated, a socially disconnected and maladjusted lead who is oblivious to the manipulation he is being subjected to on the part of the cult leader, known only as Father, we at least sympathised with him. Detective McKay on the other hand, quickly shows his colours as a thoroughly repulsive and unlikeable main character. Selfish, quick to anger and sexist to the extreme with little to no compassion on display, it is clear that this is not a character we are supposed to empathise with and when a new lead on the case seems poised to draw the Detective into the inner workings of Father’s church, you can’t help but think that things aren’t going to end well for him.

After receiving a mysterious, hand carved stone box depicting some demonic figures that sound awfully familiar, and being attacked by a woman purporting to be the enigmatic cult leader’s daughter whilst in the police station, Detective McKay begins to experience some seemingly impossible supernatural events. Mysterious figures stand outside his home at night, watching his windows, and he feels presences around him that he cannot see. One of my favourite scenes is of the detective leaving the station after a long shift and noticing some improbable weather phenomenon whereby the torrential rain does not seem to be falling down a particular alleyway that he is following to get back home. He senses a presence behind him, creeping closer but careful to remain unseen. He can hear the sound of hooves, not footsteps and, as the presence gets closer, he hears a whisper, just as the rain starts again, breaking the tension and dispelling the presence. It’s a very effective, scary scene and really sets things in motion, hinting at some particularly unpleasant things to come for Detective McKay.

Before we get there though, we flashback to 1929, a time period familiar to us from ‘Ritual’ as Fathers first (failed) attempt to complete the ritual that was finally successful decades later. We spend some time with Father during the early days of the church, learning more about his motivations and the purpose behind his congregation, as well as how he built such a loyal following. To say it’s a joy to revisit the character would be a terrible choice of words, as Father is more unpleasant and detestable than even Detective McKay, but he is a fascinating character, feeling far removed from humanity, making him volatile and unpredictable and I think ‘Communion’ benefits greatly from his presence.

One of the things that works for ‘Communion’ that differs from ‘Ritual’ is how we get some insight into the cult from the outside. This is most apparent when Detective McKay enlists the help of a professor to make sense of the box he has been given. As they empty its contents and we see the photos and film reels that depict life in the cult without the rose-tinted viewpoint of one of its members, it is shocking, but in a very different way to ‘Ritual’. Whereas ‘Ritual’ presented a seemingly mundane setting that is shown to be more as the story progresses, ‘Communion’ has a nightmarish, surreal quality throughout, where reality and the supernatural become indistinguishable from one another. 

I won’t spoil the ending here, but it introduces an exciting new status-quo, drops a few suggestions about Father’s current whereabouts, and lines up a brand-new protagonist for the final book in the series, and one who promises to be in a position to answer a lot of the series unanswered questions. I’m beginning to regret making this read-along fortnightly!  I’m dying to see what happens next…

‘Communion’ is a very different beast to ‘Ritual’, which was more of a slow burn character study that gradually pulls back the curtain on a bigger story about the supernatural. ‘Communion’ has the benefit of groundwork already being laid, letting the story kick off much faster. It reads like cross between Se7en and Rosemary’s Baby, melding the grim and gritty tone of the former with the intense, religious-themed horrors of the latter. Throw in a bit of Hellraiser for the body horror and violence, coupled with the otherworldly demonic presences throughout the book and the end result is something truly unique. The stakes have certainly increased leading into book three.

Please join me back here in 2 weeks, when we will be reading the final book in the series, ‘Sacrament’. Hope to see you all then!

Richard Martin

Richard Martin

Reviewer

Richard Martin started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatized himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner and an inappropriate amount of books. 

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