In 1980, Canadian psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder published Michelle Remembers. Based on sessions with his patient (and later wife) Michelle Smith, the book documents Smith’s uncovering of repressed abuse with the aid of recovered-memory therapy. This book has since been debunked, the style of therapy discredited, but according to Pazder and Smith, she had suffered ritualistic Satanic abuse since the age of five. This highly controversial claim sparked the so-called Satanic Panic. Since then, more than 12,000 unsubstantiated claims have been made of Satanic and/or ritualistic abuse. Perhaps most famous is the 1983 McMartin preschool trial: charges of alleged child sexual and Satanic abuse (including claims that one of the abusers could fly) were universally dropped seven years later. These claims echo historical moral panics and conspiracy theories, and beliefs persist today. Hope Madden’s debut horror novel Roost explores the effects such beliefs have on a small town in Ohio.

Born on Easter Sunday, 1970, twins Hope and Joy Murphy are welcomed into the world at the precise moment that tragedy strikes six blocks away. An old woman dies, terrified: a huge winged shadow the last thing she sees. Roost joins the Murphy twins at six-year intervals – on and around the day their birthdays coincide again with Easter Sunday – revealing Hope’s own encounters with the winged shadow, and documenting the gruesome murders of the girls’ young friends and acquaintances. The new Bible-thumping sheriff hopes to pin the murders on a Satanic cult, but perhaps some other evil has come to roost in this small town.

Roost cover (designed by Claire L. Smith)

The Murphy twins exist at the intersection of Catholicism and womanhood. At twelve, grown men comment on their figures and lean in for kisses. Adults offer warnings: to keep away from one girl’s strange uncle, and not to walk alone at night. Their position as victims is at best ignored, at worst contested. Hope and Joy’s parents seem more progressive than most others in the fictional Odenton, but still they discredit their daughter’s account of a neighbour attempting to kiss her. Being raised in this strict Catholic environment has had an effect on them. In 1982, the now eleven-year-old twins are set to be confirmed. They privately recall the discomfort of their First Holy Communion: how they hated wearing veils like child brides. They are expected to give themselves away to a powerful man without question. It is an act of faith, the expectation of which may be used against them.

Meanwhile, the sheriff has noticed that the gruesome child murders take place every six years, and he suspects Satanic abuse. He also suspects Hope, whose rebellious teenage phase fits his image of devil-worship. Roost sets out to expose and debunk the dogmatic beliefs of this small town, but the execution is found wanting. Sheriff Gaietto is wrong, but something supernatural does lurk in Odenton. The Murphy parents teach their children not to judge their neighbour, but he does attempt to kiss eleven-year-old Hope. Add to that the magnetic, enigmatic stranger with an unplaceable accent, who predictably steps into a villainous role, and Roost accidentally affirms the very assumptions it set out to contest. The implicitly autistic man is a danger to your child, and you should definitely not trust this exotic foreigner. This latter example mirrors Bram Stoker’s aim with Count Dracula, but we might forgive the Victorian novel’s small amount of xenophobia.

While Roost’s message is muddled, its prose is exquisite. Controlled and precise, Madden captures the heat, the boredom, and the thirst for freedom in a small American town. She presents bonds forged through proximity and tragedy. Friends but not friends, they sneak peeks at softcore porn on late-night television, smoke pot and beg for beer off the local creep, pull pranks and throw parties and run from the cops. Three days after abandoning Hope at the scene of their latest escapade, the guilty friend redeems himself: turning back to help her flee the scene. These moments of friendship are fleeting, but they seem to linger on.

Madden lifts us in and out of these girls’ lives, setting us down again on the next important day. One Easter, they are inseparable, the next, Joy has joined a choir while Hope babysits the kids next door. Another Easter, their mother takes ill, and the next, we find Mr Murphy’s office mid-renovation, a hospital bed in the corner. These brief snapshots of their lives reveal unseen changes, heavy implications of much left unsaid.

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Roost is a fabulous debut. Hope Madden takes subtle supernatural thrills and tosses them like birdseed on to the fertile ground of small-town horrors, the effects of a strict Catholic upbringing reverberating throughout. At its folk horror core is the dark heart of Ohio’s endless cornfields, brought to vivid life by Madden’s exacting prose. Roost releases March 15th 2022 from Off Limits Press. You can now pre-order the eBook from Amazon , and paperback pre-orders are coming soon. Grimoire of Horror thanks Off Limits Press for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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