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Holy Ghost Road John Mantooth Main

"Holy Ghost Road" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Cemetery Dance Publications

Holy Ghost Road John Mantooth Poster Large

Written by John Mantooth
2022, 352 pages, Fiction
Released on 20th December 2022

Review:

I have been a huge fan of John Mantooth (who also writes as Hank Early) for several years, and the third entry in his superb Earl Marcus Mystery series Echoes of the Fall (2019) features prominently in my Horror DNA top ten novels of 2019 with its predecessor In the Valley of the Devil also making my Best of 2018 Horror DNA list. If you are interested in ‘Appalachian Noir’ or ‘Hillbilly Noir,’ then this detective trilogy set in the mountains of north Georgia is unmissable. John currently has ‘Hank’ on hiatus, as 2021 saw the long overdue rerelease of his magnificent genre-bending debut collection Shoebox Train Wreck, which also cards another Horror DNA 5/5* maximum score, being top-heavy with top-tier short stories.

Mantooth is a gifted writer and the difference in style between his two author voices is particularly noteworthy, with the common denominator being the fact his downtrodden characters often come from the wrong side of the tracks and struggle with the trials everyday life throws in their direction. Forest, the star and highly engaging lead teenage character of Holy Ghost Road, fits this blueprint perfectly and on another day could be the offspring of a malcontent from Heaven’s Crooked Finger. Whereas Hank Early is principally a detective novelist, Mantooth excels in both the short story and novel format, beautifully blending horror and fantasy with a distinct Southern Gothic coming-of-age flavour, with The Year of the Storm (2013) being a striking example from some years ago. Whichever moniker this author writes under, he undoubtedly deserves to sell significantly more books than he probably does and is one of my top tips.

Although Holy Ghost Road is set in Alabama, it has a similar feel to his trilogy set in Georgia, with religion once again playing a significant part. However, in his latest offering the supernatural is significantly more pronounced than the undiagnosed variety which permeates his detective stories. The term ‘Holy Ghost’ is used with delicious ambiguity throughout, with the reader never truly sure whether it is referring to the Christian god or something else.

Holy Ghost Road is an intense 350-page read and although the action takes place over an incident-packed week, it seems like a much shorter period, with the rural Alabama landscapes, trailer parks and backwater bars being richly brought to life. The action opens with fifteen-year-old Forest on the run from Pastor Nesmith and his cronies, with the chase never letting up for the remainder of the book as the teen ducks and dives (quite literally) from her enemies with threat never too far away. Writing this review from the UK, I always feel like a tourist when I read about churches set in the Bible Belt states, especially when they wander into cult territory. Vividly described locations are crucial to the success of stories such as these, and even though Forest is only traveling forty miles to the sanctuary her grandmother offers, this distance feel like an eternity in the hostile Winston County where the pastor has eyes everywhere. The chase, only in the vaguest terms, reminded me of the cult seventies Warren Oates/Peter Fonda film Race with the Devil, where four tourists find themselves on the wrong side of local Satanists.

Written in the first person, Forest is undoubtedly the star of Holy Ghost Road, and although she tells us she is only fifteen on numerous occasions, her voice is significantly more mature, a reflection of her challenging upbringing. The supernatural is introduced in the initial stages when Forest witnesses Pastor Nesmith involved in what looks like some kind of Satanic ritual in the family barn. Things are more complex though, as Forest’s mother is dating the pastor and whenever there is conflict, she sides with her boyfriend over her daughter. The youngster knows her only ally is her grandmother, but the problem is getting across the county to her farm with the story providing a convincing sense of distance and perspective. In the physical sense, the granny is rarely in the novel, but her presence still dominates proceedings and she is another fine creation. Highway 278 is mentioned several times, grounding both the action and Forest’s personal odyssey, and it is easy to step into her shoes as she fights to reach her grandmother in neighbouring Cullman County.

Why would an old granny be able to protect a teenager from a guy with supernatural abilities? Good question. This brings us to the second main story thread. Forest has a strong psychic connection to her grandmother through dreams; they can both dreamwalk. It is too complex to explain how this gift works, but Pastor Nesmith is fully aware of it, the power it brings, and how it can be harnessed or stolen. Although she does not know it, Forrest lies at the epicentre of everything and soon the battle to recover the dreamstone, which increases the power, begins.

Holy Ghost Road reads like a thrilling and dangerous journey which is populated by ghosts, traps, demons and monsters of the human kind. Forest is a spiky girl who might not be after your sympathy, but she certainly earns it as she is stalked, battered and bruised on her own coming-of-age journey of self-discovery where not even her own family can be trusted. Holy Ghost Road has been published by the new Cemetery Dance eBook and trade paperback line, which is off to an outstanding start having already released Alan Baxter’s Sallow Bend and has Philip Fracassi’s excellent Gothic in the works for 2023.

 

Grades:

Overall: 4.5 Star Rating Cover
Buy from Amazon US.
Cover
Buy from Amazon UK.

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About The Author
Tony Jones
Author: Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer - UK
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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