“A Land More Kind Than Home” (William Morrow, $24.99) is the debut novel of Wiley Cash. The story is set in mid-1980s rural western North Carolina, and told through the perspective of 9-year-old Jess Hall, longtime Sheriff Clem Barefield, and Adelaide Lyle, a church elder who has taken the children out of the church to hold Sunday school by the river.
Jess has an older brother, Christopher, who is autistic. He does not speak and has earned the nickname “Stump.” Jess is protective of him, and they play and fish in the woods and lead a fairly contented life.
The church is in a rundown general store with newspaper taped over all the windows so no one can see inside. The boys' mother is a member of the church and is enthralled with Parson Carson Chambliss. Everyone speculates about what goes on in the church, but church members don't talk about it. They practice healing and use rattlesnakes in their rituals.
When Jess and Stump see Chambliss with their mother, in their parent's bedroom, everything changes. The Parson tries to heal Stump of his muteness, and as a result, kills him. Sheriff Barefield, with the help of Adelaide Lyle, begins to investigate. The townspeople realize that Chambliss is a false prophet, with motives of his own.
This is a chilling story that isn't easily forgotten. The town is composed of ramshackle houses on the edge of tobacco fields, and Cash has captured the rural southern dialect perfectly. It is an excellent novel, and I look forward to hearing more from this author.
— Betty Lytle