J. Knight's Risen is a gripping and engaging horror novel. Though he clearly has a voice and style all his own, his influences are apparent. It is easy to see links to other masters in the genre. This is not a bad thing -- Risen is fresh and smart.
In the small hick town of Anderson, life is as you might expect it: dry and a little boring, yet peaceful and predictable. That is until Reverend Small moves to town. Then everything changes, and peace and predictability are nowhere to be found.
Madge Duffy is trapped in a marriage to an abusive husband. When she finally decides to do something about it, she goes to the extreme. She cuts her husband's throat and is arrested for the murder, but a terrible mistake has been made. John Duffy is not dead and there are no longer any signs of the knife wound that came close to severing the head from the rest of the body. Though most are skeptical, thinking the local doctor might have been hitting the sauce when he pronounced the man dead, many in town believe the resurrection might be a miracle.
When the local teenagers get out of hand, it is up to Deputy Hawes to put an end to their motley crew. The confrontation gets out of hand, and one of the boys kills the deputy. Panicked, they decide to bury him in a shallow grave. Except for the boys at the scene of the crime, no one knows that the officer has been murdered. It makes little difference, though. The next day he casually strolls into the diner where the boys are gathered as if nothing were amiss.
Brant is a local journalist who has been trying to land a date with Peg since coming to town. The reason it has been a battle is because a year ago, a tragic car accident killed Peg's husband and left her daughter in a coma. She also has a teenage son, Tom, who just happens to hang with the hooligans responsible for Hawes' — what would you call it? Attempted murder? However, she finally agrees to have dinner with him. Though he should have been thrilled at the idea, the strange things going on in town are too overwhelming for a reporter to overlook.
It becomes obvious that those who have died and risen come back better than they were before — healed of any ailments they may have possessed prior to death. They also all seem to have one goal in common: to convert as many living people as possible. They share, too, a common source -- Seth, a powerful supernatural being.
Escaping from town is not an option. As possibly the only two humans left, Brant and Tom must first figure out exactly what the evil is spreading in Anderson and then decide how to stop it. All the answers point in one direction -- at Seth. The solution sounds simple: kill Seth, save the human race. The problem lies in figuring out who Seth is and in killing someone who might already be dead.
Risen is full of great, well-defined characters and chilling, thought-provoking scenes. Knight casts a shadow of gloom that darkens chapter after chapter. The suspense constantly builds and the climax is cutthroat. It is a good thing Stephen King has retired. It just might be time to hand over the crown.