A bestiary, or Bestiarum vocabulum, is a compendium of beasts. Originating in the ancient world, bestiaries were made popular in the Middle Ages in illustrated volumes that described various animals, birds and even rocks. The natural history and illustration of each beast was usually accompanied by a moral lesson. This reflected the belief that the world itself was the Word of God, and that every living thing had its own special meaning. (Wiki says it so well, why should I knock myself out trying to paraphrase it?)
Our principle character is a cop – Corporal Peter Silone, who had tired of the stress and grind of his Cincinnati police department job, and has taken a job in little Gilchrist, Kentucky, in the eastern Kentucky Appalachians. It’s a far different gig from the big city police department, and the bestiary is quickly filling up with the local fauna: a reclusive billionaire, doing something secret and mysterious in the played out mines of the area; a female ghost in black bombazine, his Uncle Jerry, survivor of both the mines and Viet Nam, the head cop, Chief Eddie Keith, his partner, Officer Stolz, and a fine assortment of meth cookers, dealers and tweakers and their family members.
We also have the Pentecostal snake handlers, the strange old pastor and his beautiful very young wife, the waitresses at the local eatery who all seem to be pregnant, and of course, Hal Lindsay, local kook and diehard adherent of cryptozoology. Gotcha! Bet you didn’t know what cryptozoology is, did you. It is a pseudoscience involving the search for animals whose existence has not been proven. That would include animals believed extinct, and animals from myth and legend.
It is a kind of crime novel, no real mystery, just the daily but very strange work of the police in small town Kentucky, where ‘if it isn’t King James, it isn’t bible!’, and the closed mines still haunt the lives of the local citizenry.
That is, it is a good police story right up to about three-quarters through, when it suddenly dove face first into some wild paranormal/horror plot line that seemed to belong to another book. I was really enjoying the story and it had me right up until the local meth king pin, caught and in jail for beheading a young tweaker, starts spouting his allegiance to the devil, turns and spouting fire out of his tuschy, blows a hole in the stone wall of the cell and escapes. Which would be really offensive to read, but as Lindsay tells Pete,
You would be surprised how big a role bowels play in the history of diablerie. The literature from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance is full of scatology, especially when it comes to the devil. Martin Luther himself believe his bowels to be possessed by the Dark Lord, at times, if I’m not mistaken.
So my cavil is not so much with the heavy and dark paranormal turn of the book in general, but with the abrupt descent into it. I would have appreciated it more had the shift been a lot more gradual and subtle.
We now can add the otherwordly creatures to our bestiary, along with the snakes, the bats and the mine mules, where we can now see that they each have their subtle or not so subtle moral meaning.
All in all, in spite of the heavy handling of the paranormal horror aspect, and the not really believable meeting with Old Beelzebub himself, I have to say I enjoyed it. I especially liked the ending. Which I am not telling you.