A psychological horror novel centered on a reverend who’s also a twisted killer.
The latest novel from Robbins (The Tu-Tone DeSoto, 2016) starts in small-town Hanson, Iowa, but quickly expands to take in New York’s Greenwich Village as it follows its darkly enigmatic main character, the Rev. Thomas Barragan. In the early 1960s, he leaves Iowa in the wake of his wife’s death and takes on a new identity as the Rev. Thomas Deavers. He then opens a church in a slum in the heart of New York’s Lower East Side, and a feisty construction contractor, Debbie Dantana, helps him transform an old coal cellar into a baptismal pool. In their off hours, she takes him to some of the city’s gay bars. The reverend dresses in drag (as his late wife), but he still seems like a wide-eyed Iowa yokel from the provinces. Robbins skillfully unfolds a parallel narrative that reveals the reverend as a diabolical mass murderer who conceives of himself as “Chamelea,” a dark, supernatural avatar who strengthens himself by killing victims and fusing their souls with his own. As the killer becomes more comfortable on the Lower East Side, more and more bodies start showing up, eventually prompting Lt. Marty Cohansen and private investigator Ray Nealy to suspect they have a serial killer on their hands. Robbins dramatizes the police-procedural aspects of his story with a gritty, atmospheric energy that extends to much of the rest of the book. The novel is heavily laden with the sights and sounds of the period, including the songs on the radio. A side plot involving the reverend’s disaffected young daughter, though affecting, feels slight next to the central conflict between a psychotic and investigators determined to stop him. Overall, though, Robbins has crafted an effusively talkative novel of appalling events in the heart of a now-vanished New York City.
A gripping, authentic-feeling psychological drama of dark sexual identities.