This was the first novel Peretti wrote for adults and it’s a real masterpiece. Peretti crafts a solid thriller about a small-town newspaper editor who slowly discovers that a nefarious corporation is attempting to take over the town for a sinister purpose that only becomes clear late in the book. But behind that thriller he has an entirely different story to tell, a story about good versus evil, angels versus demons. It’s a masterful achievement, really, telling a story set in the real world and then revealing the hidden battles that go on behind the scenes. The book has plenty of horror elements, like demonic possession and witchcraft; there’s a sequence where the editor visits a lead in an isolated cabin in the woods that is incredibly frightening. But the supernatural elements are mostly of the adventurous type, of angels going on secret missions and, occasionally, engaging in epic sword battles/dogfights with demons. The characters are great. Marshall Hogan, the journalist, is something of a cliché, but as he gets closer to the truth and starts to lose more and more to the search you get very emotionally invested in him. The small-town police chief, Alf Brummel, is a great character; in a way, the novel is about his journey from a willing tool in the hands of the corporation to a more nuanced, morally troubled character. You might expect fairly flat characters when it comes to the angels and demons, but Peretti makes them have personalities: there’s a game of wits between Lucius & Rafar, two of the demons, who are both jockeying for power and the relationship between the serious leader of the angelic forces, Tal, and his loose cannon second in command, Guilo, is interesting. This book had something of a strange effect in evangelical circles, sparking a fascination with “spiritual warfare.” Peretti found himself dogged by this label for a long time and he expressed ambivalence over the books massive success. A lot of people thought he had some sort of real insight into spiritual realms and realities; he was always just trying to tell an engaging and creative story, by his own admission. And that he certainly did. The book is layered and complex and emotionally evocative; it’s thrilling and scary and heart-tugging. The prose is masterful and the book has an energy and drive that makes it a real page turner. I think it’s a great read, whether you’re a Christian or not. Either way, don’t take it seriously; enjoy it for what it is. As for Peretti, well, his ambivalence didn’t stop him from cranking out a sequel a few years later, but that’s for another time. 4 stars.
tl;dr – gripping thriller is about both a mystery in the real world and epic battles in the realm of angels & demons; an exciting, masterful page-turner, whether you’re a person of faith or not. 4 stars.