The Visitation (by Frank Peretti)

There are times when I find a book rather bland or slow on my first reading and then thoroughly enjoy it six or seven years later. It’s less often that I rate a book highly first time around and then find it disturbing when I re-read it. But perhaps that’s not surprising when the author in question is Frank Peretti, who writes Christian thrillers; some of them are very dark indeed.

We acquired ‘The Visitation’, in hardback form, around the turn of the century. I had read some of Peretti’s other books and found them a bit disturbing, but very readable. Thrillers are not my preferred genre, but his books ‘This Present Darkness’ and ‘Piercing the Darkness’ were popular in the circles we were mixing in, and I eventually read this book in 2001. According to my review of the time, I thought the conclusion exciting, the ending satisfactory, and overall I enjoyed it.

Sixteen years later I had entirely forgotten the story, other than recalling that a young man appears in a small town and started doing miracles. And, indeed, that’s a large part of what happens. Some of the novel is related in the third person from quite a mixture of viewpoints, but there are also first-person accounts narrated by Travis, a former pastor who has become seriously depressed after losing his wife.

Brandon, the visitor, stirs up strong emotions in the town and for many miles around. Some are desperate for a healing touch or words of wisdom, others are convinced he’s either a nutcase or demonic. The pastors - a mixed bunch of widely varying denominations - meet to try to decide what to do, and Travis gets more and more drawn into to investigations.

Much of what Brandon says makes Travis look into his past; he had problems with the ultra-charismatic beliefs of some of his former friends, and made several mistakes when he believed he was ‘called’ to a particular career or place. We learn a great deal about him: he was sincere but often wrong, and found stability with the love of his wife.

There are caricatures of some of the more extreme mega-churches, in what I hope is an ironic style, and the first part of the book, if a tad slow-moving at times, is very readable. However suspense starts to build up, and the last quarter has some extremely unpleasant scenes, which I had to skim rather than read in detail. The climax is undoubtedly exciting but I didn’t enjoy it at all, and the last couple of chapters were very disturbing.

There’s a gentler, more hopeful epilogue, which means that the book ended on a positive note, but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it overall.

For those who like thrillers and don’t mind a bit of violence, it’s probably not a bad read; the Christian content is clear but not preachy at all. But I don’t feel inclined to re-read this again in future.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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