All Things Bright and Strange

Written by James Markert
Review by Thomas j. Howley

WWI has recently ended, and local veterans—at least the ones who survived—have moved back to their small, rural South Carolina hometown, Bellhaven. Ellsworth Newberry, a sad widower who has lost not only his wife but also his leg, is among them. War has left each of these former soldiers physically and emotionally scarred. The local women they left behind, wives and neighbors, have also suffered. Now something in the woods surrounding the little town seems to bring a new peace and healing. But all is not as it seems.

The townspeople have been advised to avoid these woods for generations. Yet something draws the people there now to seemingly ease their never-ending heartbreak and woe. There is not only a genuine evil out and about in the form of the Ku Klux Klan but an even worse and ancient supernatural evil which is growing stronger. Ellsworth, who suspects the worst, must forget his own tragedies and rally his neighbors to try to confront and defeat this primordial menace.

The novel starts slowly but accelerates in pace and emotion as the eerie threat makes its presence increasingly known. The characters, especially Ellsworth and Gabriel, a lovable single woman full of “girth and muscle,” are attractive and memorable. There is a bit of jumping around in time and context. And the little Southern town seems to have an inordinately diverse collection of religious groups. But the author admits in his acknowledgments he created a “world of my own.” This is an exorcist story on well-written steroids resembling the best of Stephen King without the nihilism. By the end, I expect readers may be emotionally drained yet ultimately uplifted. Recommended.