I have a favorite tune by the blues-metal band Down titled Ghosts Along the Mississippi. It may be an apt soundtrack for Tommy B. Smith’s New Era: The Black Carmenia Book I. A short, sharp, yet somewhat lyrical horror thriller set in the southern countryside, it tells the story of two families connected across time by a shared doom and a desperation for survival despite their tragic fates.
The narrative centers on a middle-aged couple, Marjorie and Terry, making a new start, having moved to the country and restored a cabin in search of a quieter life. Their adult daughter away and on her own, traumas inflicted by city life also buried and locked away, they look forward to a more idyllic life surrounded by nature and a bit of quaint history.
The “history” proves to be anything but—for the land around cabin holds secrets that awaken to haunt them. Marjorie finds a black flower along the edge of a property fraught literally with an undue number of snakes. It signals the inception of secrets ready to rise from the dark recesses of time. She proceeds to discover letters and stories of the land’s previous inhabitants, a family that experienced terrible events on their farm.
As the story jump-cuts between the Marjorie’s and Terry’s story in the 1980’s and that of the area’s previous denizens in 1918, it focuses the conflicts between the farm family’s son, daughter, and overbearing father. The reader witnesses their step-by-step descent into repressed, soon to boil over, anger and intra-family vendettas. Her research also reveals the existence of a serpent cult that wanders the countryside and how the farm family falls into their clutches.
The book’s pacing establishes an addictive rhythm that toggles between Marjorie’s incremental discovery of the farm’s secrets, the serpent cult, and work wrought by ancient silversmiths to create beautiful yet cursed artifacts. As the cult’s legacy stirs to life and proves it is far from extinct, Marjory and Terry must struggle not only against the vestiges of a family torn apart, but also against a terrifying creature, an ancient god that would make even the most ardent of occult enthusiasts do a double-take and set their Lovecraft and King aside long enough to take in this dark, dangerous, enticing ravine of a novel.
Carl R. Moore is the author of Chains in the Sky, Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, and Mommy and the Satanists, published by Seventh Star Press. He lives with his family in Albany, New York.