I rarely review books here on my blog anymore. Honestly I rarely read fiction now. Billy Coffey’s novels are the exception. Back before his first novel was published I discovered Billy through his agent’s blog. I followed him on twitter and he is still one of my favorites on social media. Not because he spends a lot of time building a tribe but simply because he interacts and is so down to earth. Yes even that shows through in his blogging and social media.
For that reason and the fact that he is a good and true southern writer, I never turn down a chance to review and help spread the word about his novels. I think he and Rick Bragg, my other favorite southern writer would get along well. (I should ask Billy if he has ever read Rick Bragg’s books.)
Jake and Kate are still haunted by the death of a high school classmate. Each spending their time trying to redeem themselves. When tragedy visits their small town of Mattingly they realize they can no longer run from the past, and as they discover the lengths God will go to show us grace.
This is my favorite novel from Billy so far. With more supernatural aspects it keeps you reading. Billy was gracious enough to answer a few interview questions about the novel.
Where did you find the inspiration for your latest novel The Devil Walks in Mattingly?
The story actually grew out of two things. The first was a boy I went to high school with. You know how every school has that one kid who’s just different? Doesn’t wear the right clothes, doesn’t come from the right family. The kid who gets tormented by most and ignored by everyone else? That was him. And though I never was one of the tormentors, I did ignore him. For years I comforted myself by saying at least I never took part in all that bullying, but then I realized what I did was maybe even worse. All those kids did everything to tear that poor boy down, and I did nothing at all to lift him up. He became Phillip McBride in my story.
The other part of the inspiration was my second novel, Paper Angels. I wrote that book knowing there was a lot more that needed to be said about what happened. Devil happens right alongside that novel. It tells the other half of the story.
In this, as well as When Mockingbirds Sing, you write about the towns people being leery of new people from ‘away.’ Having grown up in a small rural community and now living in a small town I can easily identify with this. Why do you think people like the residents of Mattingly are so hesitant to accept new comers?
Towns like Mattingly (and yours, and mine) are pretty insular. There’s a common sentiment that they’re sort of set apart from the world. They tend to have little trouble as far as crime, everybody either went to school with or is somehow kin to everyone. It’s like a family. Strangers are generally tolerated, but it takes a while for acceptance to creep in. I think it boils down to a fundamental fear of change. Small towns are generally very traditional places. The thought of someone or something rocking the boat scares people.
This one is darker than your previous novels. I think much of Christian fiction genre avoids the darker aspects of the world. What made you write a novel with a more sinister element in the plot?
I’m not sure why so many writers of Christian fiction avoid the darker aspects of the world. There’s certainly a desire for stories where characters don’t really suffer and hard questions really aren’t asked and everything gets tied up with a nice bow at the end. I’d say there’s even a need for such stories. But to me, stories like that can almost veer into fantasy. That’s not how life works. Life is tough. It’s hard. And I think that for a writer of faith to ignore those things is really a disservice to the people we want to reach. There are readers who read to escape, and readers who read to try and understand the world, themselves, and God. I’ll always write for the latter.
In this novel, as well as Mockingbirds, you write more about the unseen spiritual world. Do you think there is more to the spiritual world than we realize? Will we see more of this in your future novels? I for one hope so.
My faith is a product of my environment. I grew up in the mountains surrounded by stories of the unseen, and I fully believe that if we had only a glimpse of all the hidden things that happen around us, it would likely scare us half to death. There will always be a supernatural element to my books. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Affiliate links included in this post. I was given an advance copy of the book to review, but all opinions are my own.