Book Review: Unholy Fire by Whitley Strieber

Unholy Fire - Whitley Strieber

The Basics

Father John Rafferty finds himself as one of the lead suspects when a young woman he was close to, Maria, is killed. His church comes under scrutiny as does his personal character, but there may be something much more sinister at work beneath the surface. Something demonic.

My Thoughts

Here’s the thing about Whitley Strieber. His writing can be very stream of consciousness, and you have to strap in for that. He’s like a less disciplined Peter Straub, just as dreamlike but more likely to lose you if you aren’t paying attention. One thing that suffers greatly because of this is his characters. It’s not that he’s failing to put us in their heads, but his dialogue doesn’t ring true. Meaning if you tried to imagine someone talking like that, you might struggle.

But if you can weather a little strangeness in the presentation, his writing is beautiful. It says exactly what it needs to, but it’s speaking to a more primal part of us, an emotional core, that is more in tune with feelings and less with reason. In that way, this story followed exactly the sort of roller coaster you could expect from prose like that. And also in that way, it was a very compelling read.

I’m a fan of genre fiction that incorporates the Catholic church. Everyone has their buzzwords that make them want a book in their grubby hands in under two minutes flat, and mine are “priest” or “father”. It’s just a fascination I have. I always appreciate that, if someone is going to write such a book, it be accurate. This one was. Rafferty’s passion for his work and the church was palpable. The spiritual crises many of the characters go through were eloquently portrayed.

I will say that I knew who the killer was from a couple chapters in. It didn’t surprise me at all. I wish there had been more ambiguity about whether there was a demon presence as well. These are quibbles, because at the end of the day, I really enjoyed this read.

Final Rating