Defenders of the Faith by Chet Williamson

When Paul Blair’s wife is killed by a young drunk driver, he decides to dedicate his life to keeping the youth of his church from bad influences. And if that means bringing down the wolves who tempt them, so be it. When Paul finds that one of his own “flock” has adopted and escalated his own murderous strategies, he joins forces with the boy in a bloody crusade of vengeance upon the unholy. But can he control this mindless, violent force he has unleashed, not only upon the guilty, but the innocent as well?

Chet Williamson is a highly recognized author in the field of horror and fantasy, having won the International Horror Guild Award and been shortlisted many times for the World Fantasy Award and the Horror Writers Association’s Stoker. One of his cross-genre works also received an MWA Edgar nomination. So it should be of great interest to thriller readers that his first new novel in twelve years is an out-and-out suspense novel whose subject is the timely one of the misuse of religion to justify violence.

Your new book tends to be somewhat critical of religion. How would you respond to readers who are offended by such a stance?

The novel isn’t intended to be critical of religion per se, but of a certain type of person who uses his religion, be it Christianity, Islam, or whatever, to justify violent acts or hatred against other people. I use two quotes from Melville as epigrams. The first is: “When a man’s religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him.”

Are some of these violent, real-life acts what inspired the book?

Yes, and one particular incident, a rather innocent one. I was in a church during a ceremony of baptism, and for the first time I really paid attention to what the congregation was swearing to do, which was to watch over and protect this child as he or she grew and try and keep them free from sin and temptation. And I wondered what would happen if someone actually did that, and would stop at nothing to do so. The character of Paul Blair was born soon after.

Do you tend to start with characters rather than with a plot?

I tend to start with a basic idea, and then begin to think about characters before I start plotting. For me, character is the most important element in writing. If the characters aren’t believable, then I don’t really care what happens in a book, even if it has the most inventive and novel plot imaginable. If a writer makes me care about the characters first, then I’ll follow him or her anywhere.

So who are your characters in this book?

Paul Blair is the protagonist. He’s lost his wife in a fatal accident involving a young drunk driver, which gives him an even greater reason to be concerned with young people. Early in the story, he’s able to rescue a young child in his church from a violent sexual predator, but not before the boy is deeply traumatized by what’s been done to him. As that boy, Peter Hurst, grows older, he falls in with a very right-wing, militant Christian group, and uses their ideology to rationalize using force against those with whom they disagree. The fact that Peter, as a result of his childhood trauma, now equates sexuality with violence only complicates matters for him, and he starts emulating Paul’s acts. Peter and Paul – some combination.

Is this a psychological thriller then?

Primarily, but it’s also blended with a police procedural. Olivia Feldman is a Jewish detective in the fictional city of Buchanan, PA, which is based on Lancaster, PA. She’s originally involved in the unsolved killing of the sexual predator, and years later she finds a link between more current crimes and that one.

Do Peter and Paul ever get together?

That’s inevitable, since the modus operandi of both are the same, though their motivations are different. And when they get together is when the real fireworks start.

Why so long between books? It’s been years since you’ve had a new novel appear.

It has. I’ve had a number of other books published in the interim – a short story collection, a novella, some non-fiction, even some children’s books. And in the past five years, I’ve done a lot of stage acting – I’m a member of Actors Equity, the professional actors’ union. But last year I was approached by Crossroad Press, an e-book and audiobook publisher, and made an agreement for them to publish my entire out of print backlist. My acting chops made it a natural for me to do my own audiobooks, and since then I’ve also narrated audiobooks of the work of Michael Moorcock, Tom Piccirilli, Zoe Winters, and David Niall Wilson, with more on the way. With so much happening with Crossroad Press, I decided to give the e-book only concept a try, and we’ve just released Defenders of the Faith. It will soon be available as a trade paperback and eventually as an audiobook, all from Crossroads Press. Readers will find my other books and audiobooks there too.

Why the change from horror to suspense?

Markets change, of course, and the horror novel market has been on the wane for years. Also, I began to get tired of horror as a long form. I find that horror, particularly of the supernatural kind, tends to work best, for me anyway, in the short form, so I still write supernatural short stories and novellas, but I find I enjoy reading suspense novels – especially those of Elmore Leonard, the late Robert B. Parker, Andrew Vachss, and Joe Lansdale (to name just a few) far more than horror novels, so it’s only natural that I write suspense as well.

What’s next?

I have a new short story, “The Final Verse,” in the current Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (May-June issue), and another new suspense novel, Hunters, should appear several months from now. I’m also very psyched about appearing as the villain in Christmas With the Dead, a new film based on a story by Joe R. Lansdale. We shoot in Texas this summer. For further info about all my projects past and present, readers are always welcome at my website.  Come on over – I don’t bite…

ITW

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