She [his mother] walked over, knelt next to him, and took his hands in hers. Her fingers were long and agile, like those of a watchmaker or artisan. Indeed, she was able to adjust and tinker with the machinery of his soul. She squeezed his hands and summoned his gaze (p. 204).
The story takes place in Endurance, a small town on the northern edge of Death Valley, and centers on Zephaniah Walker, a young man who keeps to himself, almost like a hermit. As a young boy, Zeph--as he prefers to be called now--garners much attention for his prophetic abilities. God speaks through him and people come in droves to hear him. His mother takes him from church to church like some sort of roadshow. Zeph refers to his prophetic abilities as "the telling." The telling becomes more infrequent and people lose interest and then his mother dies suddenly. Zeph's father remarries and moves his son to Los Angeles. His step-mother hates him and cuts his face with a dull letter-opener, leaving him with an ugly scar. His step-mother is carted off to an asylum. Zeph later returns to Endurance and uses money that his mother saved from his prophet-roadshow days to buy an old house. He's able to live off the money and thus keep his interactions with others to a minimum. Duran tells all of this through flashbacks.
Endurance neighbors a ghost town called Silverton and an abandoned mine called Otta's Rift. In the late nineteenth century, the people of Silverton committed a mass suicide outside the mine. No one knows precisely what happened. The event becomes a matter of legend and locals speak of it as the "Madness of Endurance."
As the action of the novel begins, police detectives take Zeph to the morgue to view the body of something whose face looks like Zeph but whose body is not wholly human. Other characters, particularly Annie--a woman living in a retirement home who becomes an amateur sleuth, a modern-day Miss Marple--believes that people are changing. We later learn that dark angels escaping from Hell through a gate in Otta's Rift are eating people's souls and taking over their bodies. The dark angels are reminiscent of vampires and there are many echos of Stephen King's Salem's Lot in Duran's story. An ancient prophecy on a cave wall near Endurance tells of a time when evil will pour out of the earth and a scar-faced man who will save the world by sealing the gate to Hell. Some residents of Endurance believe Zeph is the scar-faced man of the prophecy.
The story has a number of plots holes that ruined it for me. First, the body that Zeph views at the morgue was found 150 yards from his house. Zeph's neighbor is Mila Rios--your typical nosy, busy-body. When the police bring Zeph home, Mila questions him about what is going on. She has no clue that anything has happened or why the police are talking to Zeph. I find it impossible to believe that the police would not talk to all the people living near the murder scene as a first step, just to see if anyone heard or saw anything unusual. A second problem concerns Zeph's disfigurement.
That's when she saw it clearly--it was a scar that stretched from his left nostril to his right chin, a pale furrow that left his lips cloven at the intersection, revealing a moist glint of teeth (p. 76).
Duran is saying that the cleft in the lips has never been corrected. Closing a cleft lip is relatively routine. (I have two daughters with cleft lip and palate.) It's not just for cosmetic reasons either. Try eating or drinking with a hole in your mouth. If Zeph has enough money to live comfortably without working, I find it impossible to believe he could not afford the surgery. This plot hole (no pun intended) pretty much ruined the rest of the story for me. It appears Duran was making decisions to increase the shock value of Zeph's disfigurement and make a direct visual link to the prophecy rather than being true to his setting.
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of The Telling from the publisher.
To learn more about Mike Duran and his writing, visit his blog (mikeduran.com) or Facebook page (facebook.com/cerebralgrump).
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