Now, I’ll say up front that I’m not usually one for horror. I normally stick to my tried-and-true genres of science fiction and fantasy whenever possible. The last time I branched out into horror was when I read Brian Keene’s City of the Dead and found myself both revolted and fascinated by the bleakness and absolute worst of humanity. The conflicting feelings were so strong that I’ve sort of skirted the genre since, but since I love indie fiction so much, I jumped at the chance to review Mr. Mitchell’s debut horror novel and give the genre another try.
The Congregation is dark, intense, disgusting, hideous, and bleak. In other words, it’s exactly what it set out to be.This isn’t horror in the traditional sense, with creepy things waiting to jump out of the shadows and lots and lots of suspense. This is somewhere halfway between the kind of horror where everything is implied and nothing really happens and the splatterpunk horror made popular in many cult zombie films. The setting is the Arizona-Mexico border, the time could be anywhere from the 80s to now (given that there’s very little modern technology referenced… I don’t even remember if anyone had a cell phone) with an ensemble cast in which only a couple of people are genuinely likeable and you expect them to die at every turn.
Beyond the blood and gore, though, there actually is a pretty cool story at the center of this novel, which is what I was hoping to find. It’s not just pointless violence and nasty-gross bad guys and possession, but an interesting take on an old story that really ties the whole thing together. It’s a competent narrative, for which I was pleasantly surprised.
There were times when the prose could have used a bit more editing and/or proof-reading, mostly for tightness – some of which may be personal preference – but I noticed very few scattered typos and minor errors. They did not overly distract from the reading.
Overall I felt that The Congregation was a strong debut novel, from an indie author who’s probably got a lot of good things coming his way. For near-perfect professionalism I would suggest one more editing/proofing pass to reword the occasional confusing sentence, but since we live in a world of ebooks, I’m not deducting much for formatting/editing unless it’s egregious. The fact was that when I started reading it, I felt like I was watching a train wreck – it was not so much that I had to turn away, but instead stared, riveted by the horror until I hit the final page, the twist… and was satisfied.