Demons and murderers tangle in this new novel by Jonathan Janz available now through Sinister Grin Press.
Exorcist Falls is an expansion of sorts on the author’s novella Exorcist Road. In fact, the novel includes the novella at the beginning of the book for those of us who had not read it previously.
The story(ies) follows Father Jason Crowder, a young priest (almost unbelievably young at the age of 25) as he faces off against spiritual and mortal evil in Chicago.
The first section of the story, Exorcist Road, begins as Crowder is hurried to a parishioners’ home late at night to perform an exorcism on her possessed son. Crowder and his mentor waste no time and get down to exorcising the child quickly, in an attempt to save the boy’s life. Meanwhile, the city of Chicago grows anxious as a serial killer called the Sweet Sixteen Killer remains at large.
The second section, Exorcist Falls, continues Crowder’s story as he deals with the fallout of the exorcism and his increasing entanglement with the Sweet Sixteen Killer. Has the demon truly been cast out? Will the serial killer ever be caught? Nothing seems certain as Father Crowder navigates the tenuous world of morality and murder while attempting to keep his soul.
No thanks to William Peter Blatty, creating new exorcism stories is incredibly challenging. It doesn’t matter which angle you take, any and all stories about demons and children will be compared against the mother of the modern genre. Janz has found his angle, and it’s one that stands out as original in a sea of imitation.
The protagonist’s journey in the second half (Exorcist Falls) had a distinct comic book feel. Crowder makes decisions that are uncharacteristic of a priest, but make perfect sense in context of a Dark Horse comic. And yet, Crowder’s character is timid, unsure, frightened even by the experiences he is having, making him distinct from the monosyllabic vigilantes we’ve come to know and love.
Janz is good with story development. Although he lays out every potential twist and development in foreshadowing, he doesn’t ever point too strongly, leaving plenty of room for the reader to be surprised. It’s a effective gift that plays well in a story filled with multiple threats to the protagonists.
However, if there is one thing that brought me out of the story consistently, it was the way the characters spoke. The priests, though shown to be normal men at every possible occasion (who knew priests talk about wanting to have sex with women nearly every time they have a conversation?), speak with such stilted formality it’s perplexing.
Janz has either little experience around real priests, or he wanted to heighten his spiritual characters to show their difference from other characters. Either way, it doesn’t work. Clunky, archaic descriptive words like “churlish” are used with a frequency bordering on comic.
The problem lies in trying to have it both ways. The characters can be relatable and familiar or distanced and timeless, but they can’t be both. I just can’t believe a character that simultaneously objectifies and pursues a sexual relationship with his female parishioner while using the word churlish.
Exorcist Falls is a solid addition to the exorcism subgenre. It’s new perspectives and twist-filled plot will entertain fans looking for something new in the world of demons and their prey.