Author: Nicholas Conde
After the devastating death of his young wife, anthropologist Cal Jamison is at a loose end – especially because he believes that he killed her. Running from the past and trying to build a new life for himself and his son, he moves to the Big Apple, where anyone can fade into the background. Only, this transition from senseless death is hardly fated to lead Cal down a lighter road. A walk through a park with his fractured son turns up the remains of a gruesome ritual sacrifice and further prowling around town leads Cal to become aware of an epidemic that has stumped police – child murders shrouded in arcane ritual, precise evisceration, and in one case, immolation. When Cal gets a little too curious about the local pocket of urban voodoo and meets a haunted policemen, his years of research take backseat to a new and terrifying project. As the saying goes, curiosity kills.
Brooding with a gothic flavor and rich language, The Religion is a gem in a tacky cover. I originally found the ancient, battered paperback (pretty sure its one of the originals from ’82) at the bottom of a dusty book lot box. It sounded interesting and I still have the occasional yen for some B-rated horror. The Religion, however, is hardly B-rated.
The narrative marks itself as something memorable when we first meet Cal, haunted by loss and the usual regrets (I could have saved her – if only I had done something different) and his grieving son. The things that go bump in the night (delightfully spooky as they are) take a back seat to the feelings and relatability of the characters, most specifically Cal. A dedicated man who truly loved his wife, Cal has a rawness and a reticence to move on that is both endearing and poignant. His concern for his son, plus that strange sense of “I’m alive and therefore must go on” pervades Cal’s actions, and by the second chapter, I was hopelessly addicted and emotionally vulnerable.
As an anthropologist, Cal is interested in the primeval urges of mankind and their expression through ancient religion and culture. Voodoo/Vodun is arguably one of the world’s oldest religions and an initial fascination with how modern New Yorkers can pray to ancient African gods delves into something different as the theme of blood sacrifice comes into play. As Cal slowly becomes more involved in the religion, finding a paramour only to discover that she’s a devout practitioner, and working with the local charity guru who helps so many yet ascribes to the religion wholeheartedly, there are rites of passage – at first strange, later gut-wrenchingly dark and desperate. Voodoo wraps around him – and perhaps its fated.
Conde (who in actuality is two authors Robert Rosenblum and Robert Nathan [prominent writer for Law and Order]) uses the modernity of a concrete jungle as opposed to the basic instinct and feelings which lead men and women to desire religion and connection. The argument isn’t the soapbox type of preaching (positive or negative) you may fear from something which deals with religion and follows it into the horror realm. Indeed, what keeps this book fresh and interesting is the fact that it’s not really about what you see or what is scary, but about the questions we all have, the confusion hurled at us by our internal mechanisms and the clanging of the outside world. It’s about what’s good and evil, and how evil can wrap itself in a deceptive sheen. It’s about the good of the individual versus the good of the group – how do you choose? Sacrifice a life to save ten thousand – or are you playing God? Ultimately, its about love, parenting, and faith in a mixed-up sort of way. Don’t expect an answer. You’ll walk away from this read with more questions – not about the plot or what happens to the characters – but about what you believe and how you define “right.”
A psychological novel, The Religion is horror in the truest sense of the word. What do you – as a friend, as a lover, as a parent fear most? What are your darkest doubts, your questions about gods and creation, and how much control do you really have over anything? What will you give up for the greater good and with all those warring voices, should you listen to your head or your heart? And those people around you from long-time family friends to new acquaintances, are they really telling you the truth or has a subtle web, fiber by fiber, been built around you by gods and man?
– Frances Carden
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