Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Book Review: Scars on the Face of God: The Devil's Bible by C.G. Bauer
Written by C.G Bauer
Synopsis: Hex signs protect every barn and outbuilding. Babies disappear at birth. When a brick wall unearthed at the site of a new restaurant collapses, and raw sewage carries hundreds of baby bones into the pit left behind, it looks like the devil's made Three Bridges his playground.
"Wump", in case you didn't know, is the noise a crowbar makes when it hits a man's head. It's also the nickname of the protagonist in C.G Bauer's fantastic novel Scars on the Face of God: The Devil's Bible for that exact reason. Wump (or Mr Holzer if you'd prefer) had a troubled childhood which lead to a violent adulthood, ultimately landing him in jail. That's his past, and it haunts him, just as the true meaning of his nickname constantly follows him where ever he turns.
Wump isn't the only person in the town of Three Bridges (previously known as Schuetten) with a tortured or hidden past. From early in the prologue chapter, it's clear that Schuetten/Three Bridges isn't the kind of town the Brady bunch would settle in. Originally settled by fervent German Catholics, Schuetten in the early 1900s was plagued by poverty, hunger, dangerous work for minimal pay, child abuse, superstition and the death of countless infants - typically disposed of in the large river running through town. Now, (in the 1960s) development has occurred and the town generally seems to be in better spirits, even if a large portion of children are born handicapped and townspeople are dying of leukaemia left, right and centre. However, after a wall collapses and reopens a sewer that had been barricaded for nearly 50 years, a flood of baby bones sheds a bright light on Schuetten's dark past.
As Wump, motivated by a childhood encounter with one of the abandoned babies, investigates where these babies came from and why they were abandoned he is joined by the new priest and former baseball player, Father Duncan, on a secret mission of his own, and two wonderful little orphans Leo and Raymond who are more than meets the eye. While the investigation of the baby bones form the backbone (sorry, sorry!) of the narrative, there are dozens of other intricate little storylines threaded into it. Stories to do with Wump's wife and recently deceased son, stories about the Schuetten's orphanage back when he was a child there, stories about the wealthy Volkheimer family and the mysterious disappearance/death of the (only) kindly Volkheimer male, stories about the church in Schuetten and the priests who have been employed there, and stories about an intelligent but dark 14 year old named Adam. All of these stories are tied, one way or another, to Wump and they all interact with one another to not only paint a vibrant and complex picture of the town and its inhabitants, but to build the mystery of the abandoned babies and introduce countless red herrings which kept me wondering "what if" the whole way through.
The inclusion of these red herrings were fantastic. With each new chapter another possibility or perspective was added, and any preconceived ideas you may have had needed to be reworked or completely thrown out the window. Even though some of my theories were what actually eventuated, I was kept guessing to the very end, and this quest for answers kept me motivated and desiring to keep on reading long after I should really have gone back to work or off to sleep! Importantly, nothing was added to just throw the reader off. Some of the red herrings were to do with the smaller mysteries that were operating in tandem to the main story, but even these smaller threads were tied up neatly at the end and their connection to the main story made clear. Don't take this to mean that the story is merely some kind of mystery/crime novel, it's not. It's this wonderful blend of horror, fantasy, mystery and thriller. Each element adding something special to the mix, and has made it near impossible to define its genre. So let's just shelve it as reality-bending, wonderfully interesting mind candy, OK?
The final thing I want to discuss, is the role of religion in this book. Since two of the main settings in the book is the town church and church run orphanage and one of the primary characters is a priest, clearly religion is going to have a role. However, it's more than simply a setting and background for a character. Religion was central to the formation of Schuetten and a key motivator to much of the town during their days during the 1900s. It's also integral to the character of Wump. Though he was raised Catholic, the death of his son the year before shook his faith to the very core and is constantly raised as a source of frustration, anger and confusion as he progresses through the narrative. Further still, religion plays a vital role in the mystery with the babies and the finale of the book, I'll say no more because I don't want to spoil it for you, but C.G Bauer beautifully weaves some very complex religious concepts through the story, without taking focus away from the real story - the struggle of Wump, a struggle that he's been fighting ever since he was a young boy in the Schuetten orphanage.
I found Scars on the Face of God: The Devil's Bible to be an intelligent, thoughtful and insightful story. The writing alternated between beautifully descriptive and informative yet sparse prose depending on what the narrative required, and the characters were dynamic, spirited and wonderfully constructed. I found the story an absolute pleasure to read, and C.G Bauer has definitely earned a fan in me.
My Rating: 4/5