by Christopher Graves
I’ll preface this review by disclosing the fact that I’ve read a lot of thrillers.
I’ve also read some horror. And I’ve read some twisted psychological novels that left me feeling dirty and shaking my head like … “what in the actual hell?”
But then, I read Sinner.
Do I call it horror? Do I call it a thriller? I don’t know.
What I do know, is that I can call it distinctly bone-chilling.
And I know I can call it terrifying. Seriously. This book lingered on the periphery my brain for weeks after I read it. I began to subconsciously check behind me every time I was walking through a parking lot alone. I started to give my grocery store baggers a suspicious side-eye. If a man made eye contact with me in a pizza place, I decided that the pizza just wasn’t worth eating and got the hell out of there. And if you knew how much I worshipped pizza, you’d know what a big deal that is.
This book made me afraid to go out to the country to visit my grandpa, because isn’t that where all the crazy religious zealots live? In their little houses and in their little communes, all breeding with one another and producing monsters? And forget Missouri. I’m never going there again. Branson can suck it.
Okay, I took it a little too far.
But okay, this book. Y’all, it freaked me out on so many levels. There was the one particular scene with snakes that had me crawling in my own skin, making terrible nasty grimaces that had my husband shaking his head at me and reminding me that he wouldn’t come near that book with a 10-foot pole.
My husband doesn’t do scary. Let’s be real. Frankenweenie gave him nightmares.
No, I’m not kidding.
But I digress …
Ezekiel Woods Jr. didn’t enter this world with the purity he deserved. His mother was a sinner – of that fact there has never been any doubt in his mind. No matter how she tried to raise him or what she ended up being in his life as an adult, Zeke never could look at Sylvia with any respect.
Not that she felt she deserved it anyway. She knew what she was, and she knew how she got there. As a member of the Apostolic Church of Christ (a religious organization… because cult is such a nasty word, isn’t it?) she had her place set in society from the day she was born. Sylvia was to be seen and never heard. Her duty was solely to take care of her husband and of her male elders. She was meant to never talk back and to never, ever question anything. Women just weren’t made to be thinkers. But they were made, as it were – to sin.
The one time she did ask a question – the one time she dared to put a toe out of line – she felt the wrath of the Brotherhood come raining down upon her like a Southern hail storm in winter.
The Brotherhood. The Bald Knobbers. A terrifying clan of men wrecking havoc through the Missouri hills and countryside, like so many avenging angels spreading the wrath of God down upon those who were unworthy to walk the earth. And Sylvia’s father was one of them.
Now her son is carrying on the family tradition. A son that was created from rape. From incest. From cruelty. He is the product of his dark environment. Nature and nurture combined into one. A predator sent from the deepest bowels of Hell.
Zeke readily accepts that his life’s mission is to rid the world of sinners. And there are no greater sinners to be found than the female sex. He wants nothing more than to complete his missions one by one and do his part for God. It is an obsession tailored with the singular high he gets upon completion. It is woven with the threads of tradition and hate.
He will find these women and prepare them for their redemption. Through their deaths he will lead them to glory and Heaven. He will baptize them in the essence of their own sin … in their own blood. In doing this, he is doing them the ultimate favor.
The kills are easy. Zeke watches them and analyzes them; he decides what they need to become pure. The woman that sat across from him in the pizza parlor was obviously a simple woman. She was average in looks and in ambition. He could tell that all she really wanted to do was spend her night curled up in bed with a romance novel, maybe a glass of cheap red wine nearby. She’d stopped in the pizza place for dinner, doing her best to stick to a salad so she can rid herself of those few extra pounds that seem to cling to her like a cheap fur coat. When he came over and began to talk, it was to give her a chance to prove him wrong. She allowed herself to feign interest just for a little bit. After all, it wasn’t often that a man took the time to notice her. It was flattering, but there was something about him that was off … something that made the hair on the back of her neck stand at attention. It was then that he knew his gut instinct had been correct – that woman deserved death. And death blooms from Zeke’s hands like so many flowers in a spring garden.
But Dani, now … she was harder.
Out on a blind date, Dani thought she’d been stood up. It was taking him too long to show, and she was starting to get nervous. When Eric finally entered the restaurant, he was full of smiles and genuine apologies. She was grateful, and he was handsome. The breakup with her ex-boyfriend had left Dani feeling sharp and bitter, and she was ready to move on with someone new. Blind dates can always be a bit tricky, but Eric fit the bill. She had hope for the first time in a long time.
Stopping by the store that night, she just meant to run in for a carton of ice cream. Something sweet to end the night with, since she was going home alone (by choice, mind you … it didn’t do to appear too eager, even when the date was a smash hit). But there was something creeping up Dani’s spine, something cold and icy … and it wasn’t the Ben and Jerry’s. She felt like she was being watched … like there were eyes on her from the shadows of the parking lot, from around the corner of the aisle in the store. It made her anxious to get in her car and get back to the safety of home.
But unfortunately for Dani, Zeke had other plans. And unfortunately for Zeke … Dani didn’t plan on going down without a fight.
Sinner is the debut novel by Manhattanite Christopher Graves. The novel is based upon his award-winning screenplay of the same name. Also worth mentioning is a web-series that Graves both writes and stars in, With Friends Like These. I found the juxtaposition of the web-series versus the Sinner novel very interesting. Sinner is absolute to-the-max horror and Friends is refreshingly funny and very charming. It’s important to me as a reader that the authors I follow have range (Colleen Hoover and Verity, anyone?).
So the novel … it is 100% scary. Everything is pushed to the limits in this novel, and the pacing is appropriate. My only regrets are:
… I wish there was more character development for Dani. She seemed a little hollow, and I wanted more from her. I enjoyed the fact that she wasn’t your typical damsel in distress, but that’s exactly it – I wanted more of her personality to shine through and to get to know her better. It would have helped me be more invested. As this book was based upon a screenplay, I can see where the disconnect could easily happen.
… and the Bald Knobbers. I would have loved some history on this maniacal clan. We got little snippets of their destruction and their insane terror through the eyes of Sylvia, and I found myself much more interested in historical aspects of the novel than in the present-day scenes. There was something so sinister about their costumes and their purpose. I would have loved to hear more on their origin, and why Zeke felt so passionately about continuing on with the “work” considering we didn’t get to see all of his growing up. Who mentored him? Who coached him? Where was his touchstone?
Other than that, this was a very solid horror novel. And please be advised that when I say horror … I mean horror. It is not intended for readers under the age of 18, and it’s definitely not meant to be read after dark.
I give Sinner four out of five stars, and recommend it to those who enjoy losing themselves in the truly demented, dark, and ultimately twisted minds of serial killers.