Bethany’s Sin – Robert McCammon
I will level with you. As a huge Robert McCammon fan and having only read most of his later material (Swan Song onwards), as much as I wanted to read his back catalogue, I was a little hesitant in case it didn’t live up to my expectations. Robert has said himself that his initial few novels were where he learnt his trade in the public eye so to speak and thought they were a weaker standard.
At the end of the day though, it is Robert freaking McCammon. On a bad day he is 90% better than most authors.
Despite its eerie name, Bethany’s Sin is a pleasant place. After a life of grim poverty, this new community seems like heaven to Evan Reid and his family. With its quaint shops, manicured lawns, and fresh summer smell, the town charms the Vietnam veteran, his wife, and their daughter like nowhere else they have ever been. But beneath that cheerful façade lurks something deadly.
As soon as they enter their new house, Evan is consumed by fear. He can’t place its source, but there is something about the town’s mayor, Kathryn Drago, which makes him uneasy. By day she is a harmless retired archaeologist. But at night she leads an Amazonian cult whose next ritual calls for a secret ingredient: the blood of Evan Reid.
Bethany’s Sin is your classic horror story told extremely well. The story focuses around a young family moving to a new idyllic town to set up a new life for themselves. On closer examination, the perfect setting and manicured lawns are not so innocent as they seem. Bethany’s Sin will not win any points for originally but that should not detract from the execution of the prose or the enjoyment from the story.
The protagonists of the novel are the husband and wife duo of Evan and Kay. Evan is a Vietnam vet who experiences frequent nightmares as a hangover from his traumatic time in the war. He is also blessed/cursed with odd dreams that seem to predict the future. Kay is his ever supportive wife who has landed her dream job and yearns to build a new life for her family.
Both characters are well portrayed and have confidence in their beliefs. As things unravel McCammon draws out the conflict the married couple experience well. They are both torn between what they believe and supporting each other in their marriage. The nice thing here, is that unlike so many stories, where all the strange instances happen to one character who is more open to them and the other characters remain blindingly sceptical throughout, in Bethany’s Sin, both Evan and Kay witness weird events and are aware of things not being quite right but react in very different ways.
The concept is refreshing and helps to demonstrate the mysterious power that resides in the town. You really feel the sense of helplessness as Kay is unwittingly drawn towards the terror and Evan struggles to oppose it.
The story itself obtains the correct balance between drawing out the mystery without being too frustrating. You know immediately what is going on but not why or how. As other characters enter the foray the mystery only deepens.
Some of these characters receive their own mini POVs and special mention goes to Neely who really is an excellent character.
Having said that, Bethany’s Sin is not as polished as McCammon’s later work. There is an annoying trope he uses in repeating a word at the end of the sentence. I assume this is meant for dramatic affect but is way over used to the point where it becomes irritating and distracting. Distracting. Distracting.
The ending of the novel is well done. The inevitable showdown is giving a large amount of time to resolve itself without feeling too drawn out. One thing about McCammon is that his stories always have satisfying endings.
Overall then, I thoroughly enjoyed Bethany’s Sin. Is it my favourite McCammon book? No. But is it head and shoulders above a lot of other horror books out there? You betcha.
My rating: 8.5