Author Chuck Tingle made a name for himself by putting out numerous tongue-in-cheek erotica stories that feature a variety of off-the-wall “characters” such as velociraptors, Mothman, climate change denial, and the concept of linear time. Given his penchant for silliness, those of us who were aware of his work were quite surprised to find out that he would be releasing a straightforward horror novel this Summer. I haven’t read any of his prior stories, so I can’t testify to their quality, but I can say that given their subject matter I was equally surprised to find out just how good this effort would be.
Rose is a devout Christian teenager, awkwardly beginning to figure herself out. Most of the citizens of her Montana hometown are fervently religious, devoted to the teachings of one celebrity pastor in particular, whose church operates a secretive gay conversion camp in the neighboring woods. One day, while hanging out with friends, Rose begins to push herself out of her comfort zone, only to be rewarded with a sudden onslaught of strange events. As the occurrences become more numerous and potentially even dangerous, and the adults in her life seem alarmingly unphased, she begins to branch out on her own to determine the cause before it’s too late.
This is a pretty classic horror set-up, and aside from the topicality there isn’t much truly new about the plot. That said, it’s still consistently engaging, with good characterization and enough moments of suspense to keep the pages turning. The truth of what’s actually going on is surprising in its cruelty and makes one wonder over just how horrible some people can be in the name of doing good. It may sound like this book is anti-religion, but that is not the case at all. The author certainly has some things to say about the ways in which organized religion can be used to hurt people, but he highlights the ways that faith can help them as well. While Camp Damascus is first and foremost an edge-of-your-seat thriller, it’s also unexpectedly deep and emotional. About as good a Summer read as you can ask for. ★★★★
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor