For about the first half of the book, I had a hard time with it and I couldn’t figure out why. But I soon realized that because reading it the wrong way. As book deemed as something to be read if you want to learn about psycho killers in horror fiction, this was a poor choice–in my mind–as the psycho killer is no more essential to the story as Edward Cullen needing to be a vampire. This was a literary novel that used horror conventions to tell the story of small town paranoia. And it did it well.
I’m not going to get into some of the technical aspects other posts getting into because for, the most part, it comes down to literary vs. genre debate and a hypercritical eye of one examining the other.
What I will talk about is what this book does better than any horror novel I’ve read in a long time: atmosphere within the story. If you read enough horror novels, you start to see the tricks authors use to evoke an atmosphere of dread and/or terror in the reader. But precious few actually make that same atmosphere feel like the reality of the story. How many monster or psycho stories have you read which have a series of killings, but the town or city the story takes place in seems to run the same way right after a death as it did the start of the story. If anything does happen, it purpose is not to keep the town or city safe, but as a challenge that will pop up in the climax of the story. The Church of Dead Girls shows more of what would happen realistically if these events occur, and how that impacts the lives of the characters as well as progress of the story.
It is always stressed upon new writers to keep their stories “realistic.” I think many, including myself, think of that within the context of our characters and in the initial world building of the setting. But when we get into the middle of the story, we forget the actions of our characters don’t just impact he story, but the world within that story. The Church of Dead Girls is a great example of that and, while not the only thing, is something any horror writer can learn from reading this book.