(Night Shade Books, $25.00, 238 pages, hardcover; published in March 2003.)
For his novel A Choir of Ill Children, horror writer Tom Piccirilli has created the Southern backwater community of Kingdom Come. Isolated both geographically and culturally from the outside world, the town is populated by gruesome yet bizarrely charming characters who engage in unusual rituals and demonstrate disturbing mores.
The narrator, Thomas, is the richest man in Kingdom Come and its unofficial ruler. He lives in a mostly abandoned mansion with his three brothers, all three of whom are conjoined at the frontal lobe. The daughter of a local witch serves as nurse to the triplets and sexual plaything to all four brothers. A dark secret from Thomas's childhood threatens to destroy Kingdom Come, but he ignores the witch's warnings that he must take seriously his role as the community's ruler and protector.
Themes of salvation run throughout the narrative, as various characters strive to find their own peculiar brand of serenity and heaven on Earth in the aptly named Kingdom Come. A crew of university students are visiting to film a documentary on the conjoined triplets, but some of the filmmakers are soon infected by the gothic strangeness of Kingdom Come and embark on their own twisted journeys of self-discovery.
Through the fascinatingly complex perspective of the narrator, whose worldview is peculiarly askew, Kingdom Come is brought to life with a relentless parade of wonderfully weird details. Tom's voice flirts with the hardboiled attitude of noir antiheroes, but his gruff manner hides a fragile compassion.
Piccirilli gradually unveils the uncompromising harshness of life in Kingdom Come, imbuing even the most monstrous behaviour with a strange, almost surreal love.
A Choir of Ill Children is as poignant as it is bizarre.
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© Claude Lalumière 31 July 2004, 5 December 2004