Christian paranormal thrillers seem almost like a contradiction in terms, but Peretti manages it, and does it very well.
The story follows Steve, a professor of wildlife biology whose brother Cliff was killed by what is believed to be a grizzly bear. His sister-in-law was left almost out of her mind after the attack though… and his brother’s death is so gruesome that they’re left trying to find another explanation. Steve pursues the investigation with local cop Tracy–sort of. Tracy sometimes seems to be on his side, and other times attempting to discourage him from ruffling any feathers of the townsfolk. Only the local mechanic Levi, who happens to be a Christian, is willing to tell him anything–and Levi is considered a religious nut. According to him, there’s a dragon in their town, and it was the dragon that killed Cliff–along with the many others who go missing as the story goes on. Just before each person disappears, they develop a black tarry substance over their hearts, which oozes and stinks, but they don’t seem to notice it. Everyone around them does, though. They also lose all sense of shame, and begin to brag loudly enough for all to hear about every foul deed they’ve ever committed, and gotten away with.
As Steve and Tracy attempt to unravel the mystery, they also get closer to each other… which is a problem, because Steve later learns that Tracy is actually still married to one of the men in the town. I’m tempted to reveal more about what the dragon really is, because it’s so central to the plot, but I don’t want to give it away–part of the intrigue is how all of those clues work together in the paranormal logic of the tale. There are twists I didn’t expect for sure. The ending was satisfying and entertaining.
My rating: *****