3 Gates of the Dead
In a story about good versus evil, Jonathan Ryan brings an old-school vibe back to contemporary horror.
The first in a five-book series, 3 Gates of the Dead tells the chilling tale of ritualistic necromancy coupled with threads of theology that include multifaceted layers of faith, exorcism, holy relics, divine intervention, and a group of scientifically-based paranormal researchers that garners its legitimacy by attempting to disprove supernatural activity.
The novel opens with Assistant Pastor Aidan Shaeffer whose faith in God in waning, as is his belief in the leadership of the church's elders. Having recently lost his parents in a tragic fire, Aidan is also nursing a broken heart after his fiancée, Amanda, unceremoniously dumped him for a more "spiritual" man. To make matters worse, Aidan recently learned that the church pastor, who is also his friend and mentor, is being unfaithful to his wife.
After Aidan learns that Amanda has been brutally murdered in a ritualistic, black magic sacrifice, his church-related issues seem insignificant in comparison—especially since he's the police's main suspect in Amanda's death.
After being brought in for questioning by Detective Jennifer Brown, Aidan clears his name and unofficially joins the hunt for Amanda's killers. Through intensive investigation and cryptic clues left by Amanda, Aidan locates an Anglican priest, Father John Neal, whose life and experience goes far beyond anything that Aidan can even conceive of, much less comprehend.
Through Father Neal, Aidan is introduced to a paranormal investigation group that Amanda had joined a few weeks before her death. Accompanying Father Neal and the para-group on a case, Aidan is introduced to a world that causes him to question everything he ever believed in—a situation that intensifies when supernatural occurrences begin to target him directly.
With each surreal and terrifying event, Aidan and Det. Brown creep ever closer to an unbelievable conclusion that puts Aidan's faith to the final and ultimate test.
Rather than concerning himself with a new breed of monster or making the old ones sparkle, Mr. Ryan focuses on the tried and true: demons, spirits, and lost souls caught between worlds. To his credit, Ryan is able to perfectly balance the religious theme of the book in a way that doesn't overshadow the true concept of the story, but instead supports it, much in the vein of The DaVinci Code.
With great attention to detail, Mr. Ryan has created an eclectic and engaging group of characters who vary in age and personal history. While Father Mike Nolan has one of the most fascinating backgrounds, Aidan Schaeffer experiences the largest growth trajectory.
Already unstable from questioning his faith in God, Aidan shoulders an incredible burden that leaves him no choice but to see it through to the end, basically playing a personified version of what-doesn't-kill-you-makes-you-stronger. Though Aidan's cleric association plays a major role in his character make up, the impact is softened by his relatable, everyman personality—his sarcastic wit doesn't hurt.
Additionally, the author handles the inclusion of the paranormal investigation group perfectly by giving them an acceptable validity through scientific methods, as opposed to the sensationalist ghost hunters they're often portrayed as in the media.
With so many elements in the this paranormal thriller, Jonathan Ryan's keen eye for structure and engaging writing style seamlessly melds everything together to create an intense, compelling story that keeps the reader thoroughly engaged and looking forward to the next installment.