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THREE SIXES AND A FORKED TONGUE OR COLD MEDICINE AND A LIAR by James Tyler Toothman

THREE SIXES AND A FORKED TONGUE OR COLD MEDICINE AND A LIAR

by James Tyler Toothman ; illustrated by Amanda Wotton

Pub Date: Dec. 21st, 2023
ISBN: 9798987763216
Publisher: Millions of Colors

Debut author Toothman’s character-driven horror novel unfolds in West Virginia.

It’s 1970 in Clockmaker, West Virginia, a small coal-mining town, and teenagers Joseph Smith and Priscilla Carpenter feel trapped. Joseph will one day escape to follow the Grateful Dead, but Priscilla has no such out. She lives in constant fear of her abusive father, Everett. Life improves when Priscilla finds a book about witchcraft, but the dark arts aren’t easy to master. She must work with disgusting ingredients, and she must also learn discipline. To become a real witch, she patiently climbs the ladder, like a “kung fu master.” But her sacrifices will be worth it if she can, for example, make urine rain on those who deserve it. Of course, satisfying petty grievances is merely the beginning; when it seems Priscilla’s ready to set aside her witch’s cauldron, there’s much more to come. An older Priscilla revisits her powers to address a health issue and, in so doing, draws unholy attention to herself. Enter the devil himself. Toothman’s novel ably builds the inner life of his lead (as with Priscilla’s taste in literature) and includes occasional black-and-white drawings from illustrator Wotton. The result contains many tropes of the horror genre, but the story isn’t so easy to classify. It references historic events, including the Buffalo Creek flood, and riffs on subjects like telekinesis. It all makes for a novel packed with the unexpected, like a cannabis-smoking devil. As Priscilla gets deeper into witchcraft, it becomes clear she’ll be stirring up chaos, which fuels the novel. But the story’s momentum can be uneven. Joseph’s character is ho-hum; his musical leanings and his conflicted feelings about the devil (“Sure, sure, he seemed nice”) don’t add much. Not when there are circles of hell to learn about and other devilish details that reveal a complex, fascinating world.

A wild, if occasionally slow, brew of sorcery, Satan, and rural America.