Off the Shelf

“The Night Church”

By Marcus Pan

Whitley Strieber was a virtual unknown to me until I picked up his older novel, “The Night Church.” The book sat on my shelf for some time before I got around to reading it. After tearing through most of the Hitchhiker’s Guide series from Douglas Adams I needed a break from the zany comedic atmosphere of his so I turned my attention to “The Night Church,” sitting idly on my shelf for what; years? I was pleasantly surprised to discover on the introduction flap that Whitley was the author of both “The Wolfen” and “The Hunger,” the first of which being one of my favorite werewolf horrors of my youth. So I delved in.

Strieber begins the story with an old man, seemingly containing magical suggestion capabilities like the casting of a quest or charm spell. He takes the son of a family and disappears with him to bring him to a better “school.” As it unfolds, you learn the Night Church is a long-running, highly powerful, mafia-style Satanic church hidden within the confines of the world’s Christian assemblies. And on the other side there is the ongoing and always fighting Inquisitors, those who aren’t afraid to end in martyrdom to protect the true faith of Jesus.

The Night Church has existed for millennia, seemingly as long as that of the Christians. And in this millennia it has huge operating bases, blatantly utilizes churches after hours for large meetings and rituals as well as routinely burns people’s houses down after cutting them into small bits with blowtorches. And yet they remain…uncontested and uncaught. Explain this to me. Even Scarface went down one day. And lest I forget, did I mention that they pioneered the Black Plague and have were-beasts in their midst that turn into monstrum that they utilize in sex rituals? Can’t forget that.

In the present time, the Night Church has, over the millennia, bred two people; one Patricia Murray and her mate Jonathan Banion. Both were students of the Night Church and were bred to perfection…to be the parents of the anti-man, a beast expected by the Satanic church to take over the world. “God created man in the image of himself, and now it is Satan’s turn to create something in HIS own image,” they are fond of saying. And of course both had their minds hypnotically wiped so that they can hide in society, free from Inquisitors. So they are left to discover that they are indeed Satanic, evil mutants. It just so happens that Jonathan is a scientist who studies the brain…wonderfully convenient.

In addition, to help the forthcoming anti-man with its dominance without intervention from the nasty human types around (self-sacrifice is always good fodder for fanatical occults), they have developed a new strain of their Black Death plague they launched in the Middle Ages. A foiled raping of Patricia by the now-changed Jonathan gives the few good guys, who are dropping like flies, time to regroup. There’s a graying New York cop, Mike, who just happens to be the step-father of Jonathan. The Inquisitor who has been tracking the Night Church’s progress waits until the very last minute and until there’s only one chance left to save us all from Satan to act…though he knew about them, their actions and their plans from the beginning. He just sits around and reports on it to the Vatican and the Vatican keeps telling him to do something and he just reports some more.

Mike of course is caught in the middle and doesn’t find out enough until its too late but, of course, he saves the day. Or at least we are left hoping to believe as we’re left hanging at the end of the book with a dead monstrum version of Jonathan (of course it has scales, why wouldn’t it?) and the now inseminated Patricia who is swept away in a car swearing that the child she is bearing is that of the real Jonathan and not his evil monstrous form. And there it ends.

The Night Church was slow to read. It doesn’t grab the reader, pull them in. It reads like a narrative or documentary rather than prose or a story. This effects the attention span of the reader and it took me longer than usual to finish it. In addition, there’s just too many coincidental conveniences. Like the hypnotic mind erasing of Jonathan…who happens to have the highest technology brain-scanning lab in his basement. And the fact that his step-father is the do-gooder cop who presumably saves the day. And I just couldn’t find myself believing in the plot. With how open the church seems to operate, not bothering to lock the church doors for their night ceremonies and laying claim to huge mansions and nearly the entire populace of the pilgrim destination of Lourdes, you’d figure they would have been caught years ago. The coincidences combined with the undermined believability of the whole thing makes it a below-average cult horror brimming with cultish clichés, cheesy imagery and re-used ideas that will leave you wondering if you just read a book or are experiencing a bad bout of deja-vu.

“The Night Church” by Whitley Strieber
Published by Simon and Shuster,
© 1983 by Wilson & Neff, Inc.

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