1 out of 4 stars
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The Churchyard, by John W. Cottrell, is a mystery/thriller set in the 1960s. In the sleepy Tennessee town of Lakelust, cult activity seems to be forcing people out of their homes in search of a safer place to live. When murders start occurring, the sheriff and his deputies must hunt for the murderer, or murderers, and determine if there is any connection to the cult that has been terrorizing Lakelust.
Cottrell’s premise is interesting: The historical period, small-town setting, and themes involving cults and mind-altering drug use had the potential to create an eerie and engaging storyline. Unfortunately, The Churchyard reads like an unpolished first draft. The book is riddled with problems that need to be resolved for the book to make an iota of sense to the reader. There are continuity issues throughout the story that make the plot incomprehensible and onerous to navigate. For example, multiple characters are shot; however, these characters all appear later in the narrative as if nothing happened. No explanation is ever provided about how the characters survived, and none of the characters have any wounds when they reappear.
Moreover, the narrative presents issues with time and place. It is almost always unclear when events are happening or how characters are getting from one place to another so quickly. Further, a lot of details are left out or glossed over, making the plot confusing and difficult to follow. The identity of the book is also unclear: The Churchyard ineffectively vacillates between mystery and paranormal fiction, adding to the unintentionally disorienting feel of the story.
Additionally, character development is generally lacking. For example, character motives are unclear, and background information is missing, which makes it difficult to understand who the characters are and why they appear in the story. There isn’t a single likable character in the novel, and most of the characters are interchangeable, like the four deputies who are difficult to tell apart and have similar mannerisms. Further, the development of the cult members is comical and does not touch upon any of the complexities of cult psychology.
In addition to the issues with continuity, plotting, and characterization, the novel needs significant editing. There are many grammatical errors in the text that are egregious and distracting. Although I looked forward to the eerie premise of The Churchyard, nothing about the novel lived up to its potential, and I didn't like anything about the book other than the premise. Due to the grammatical errors and numerous issues with the content and plotting, the book earns 1 out of 4 stars. In its current state, I cannot recommend The Churchyard to any readers. The novel is simply frustrating to navigate and needs additional work to be an enjoyable read.
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