Wednesday, September 26, 2012

CSFF Blog Tour Day Three: The Telling

The TellingThis month's blog tour features Mike Duran's The Telling, the story of a reluctant prophet coming face to face with a gate to Hell. The Telling is Duran's second novel and I had high expectations after enjoying his previous efforts: The Resurrection and Winterland (see my reviews here). Unfortunately, The Telling falls short compared to the previous works. The writing is very good and Duran knows how to employ clever imagery to delineate character and give you the creeps. For example:

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 ( or Facebook page (

To learn what the other CSFF bloggers are saying, follow the links below:
Jim Armstrong
Noah Arsenault
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Brenda Castro
Theresa Dunlap
Victor Gentile
Nikole Hahn
Bruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler


  1. I'm with you: an irreparable scar, in this age of advanced plastic surgery, did strike me as odd. (Or, if it couldn't be completely repaired, it could have been minimized.) It would have been good if a sentence or two had been included to explain what surgery had occurred already, and why more couldn't have been done. (Or, perhaps, tell us that Zeph hadn't been given care in a timely fashion, and healing/scarring occurred before repairs could be made to reverse or impeded the disfigurement.)

    But, as I continued reading, the scar just became "it is what it is". I would have liked to see an expanded, clearer ending of the story, however.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Keanan. If Duran had just said Zeph had a big scar across his face, I wouldn't have cared. It's the cleft part and the personal experience I have with it that made the difference.

  2. So interesting, Jeff. I saw what I consider to be plot issues too, but not the ones you mention. Maybe you can tell me if I'm wrong on this. [SPOILER ALERT] When the demons swapped out people, they killed them, right? So how did Zeph get a doppelganger without knowing about it and without being killed?[END SP] Was that explained and I missed it?

    I appreciate you perspective. Love CSFF tours!


    1. Good question, Becky. I don't remember any detailed explanation of how the soul eating/body swap worked. And it happened to Zeph multiple times. It appears the dark angels are not opportunists (eating anyone they find) but target someone and become increasingly like that person physically before they finish them off. Yes, I believe the people are dead after the doppelganger eats their soul.

  3. I never thought of this as a cleft - especially after reading how it was caused by the step mother. It didn't seem that his dad would have cared enough to have it fixed - especially since he wasn't usually sober. So I had assumed it was not a high priority in his family.

  4. I'm finishing the story tomorrow and will post my review by the weekend. Thanks for your take.