Rating: 5 out of 5
I had never heard of Erik Henry Vick when Amazon recommended his Wrath Child: A Supernatural Thriller to me. This setup rarely ends well, but this time I’m glad I went with the recommendation! FBI Special Agent Gavin Gregory is called to a murder scene: the victim appears to have been murdered with a hammer, and the cops need Gavin to tell them whether the rest of the scene matches up with past scenes from victims of The Smith, a wily serial killer who disappeared the last time Gavin was stalking him. Unfortunately they do match up, which doesn’t bode well for the vacation Gavin is supposed to take with his wife Maddie. Soon he finds himself caught up in a very complicated web of deaths. At the center of that web seems to be Doctor Debbie Esteves, a psychiatrist who works at a mental hospital. She claims she has The Saint Mary Psycho in her inpatient care, and she has treated The Smith, yet she isn’t very forthcoming with information.
The story takes place in three disparate time periods: 2004, 2014, and the present day. Tales from the past are actually quite interesting and relevant, and even though they make for a rather long book, I found they didn’t slow it down at all. I had no trouble getting invested in the past characters. My only issue with them, in fact, is that I occasionally wondered how the person telling the story–which is told in third person–necessarily knows all the details that go into the stories.
There are a lot of scenes in a mental hospital ward where violent patients are held, so I can’t speak to the authenticity of that. I found it quite interesting, though. It becomes fairly evident early on in the story that there’s a kind of “demon” riding people and causing them to do horrible things. One of my favorite bits is that people who are being affected by the demon start to use clangs (they use a rhyming or sound-alike word instead of the one they meant, typically without realizing it). So if you’re paying attention, you can tell who is being affected and when. It happens with varying degrees of subtlety (or not!), also, so it serves as a marker for how much someone is being affected–for both reader and characters. A person can be ridden for moments or years. They might remember what their body did, or they might have gaps in time and then start losing control of their actions and words.
My only real confusion was this: when looking for a kidnapped cop, and you already know the kidnapper has found the cop’s phone and turned it off, why would you then think it still indicated the location of the cop when it gets turned back on? I mean yeah, you have to check it out, but wouldn’t you be expecting the phone to have been planted somewhere? This doesn’t seem to occur to any of the police involved.
Even with all the time-jumps this is a coherent story, a tense thriller, and a really great read!
Content note: graphic murder.
Apropos of almost nothing: why are writers in fiction (Maddie in this case) always flush with cash or even wealthy? Very few of them are like that in real life.