The Church Retreat by Joel Tuggle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Church Retreat by Joel Tuggle is about a church group that goes on a retreat in South Carolina where two girls end up missing and not about religion or a church so don't let the name of it turn you off if you happen to be atheist. The book sounded like it would be a really good suspense, even scary but it didn't seem to live up to that description. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a bad book, I still liked it but I think it just could have been so much more mysterious/scary than what it was. The major problem I had with it was the under development of the character plus there were so many of them that we bounce around to as well as the story having too many subplots.
The story opens on September of 1971 when there were a few boys playing around with an air rifle, drinking from the beer bottle one of the boy swiped from his home and doing what boys do. Eventually they get into a bit of trouble so they run to a barn to hide and two of them end up missing. Now we come into present time, October 2001, a church group went to a camp not far from this barn. The children left the camp when Carrie, a thirteen year old girl, realized she forgot her book back at camp so Allison who was following the bus in her car took Carrie back to camp to retrieve it while the camp bus went into the next town since one of the children on it was not feeling well. The girls never showed up at town and eventually Carrie's father comes to look for her. There is a bad tropical storm coming so the local authorities are busy with preparing for that but eventually with the father's persistence someone is assigned to help him look for the missing girls. They eventually find their car and with the storm approaching time is of the essence to find them.
This part of the story is what I would say was the main plot (and a good one) but now we throw in some sub-plots of a drug cartel, escape, blackmail, a dirty sheriff, kidnapping, an affair, and a secret pot farm and this is only naming a few of them and it gets a bit confusing as to what is going on and who is who. I found the only one I could 'connect' with was the father looking for his missing daughter and I am not even sure if that is because of the author's development of the character or because I am a parent and remember how I felt when my eleven year old went missing (and that was for one only one day with no storm approaching) but for sake of argument I will say the author's development of this character is the cause since he was the best developed one in the book.
As I said before, despite my pointing this out, I did like the story. I especially thought the opening of the story was fantastic. Not only the whole 1971 chapter but the father when he was hunting. I thought that scene was just too funny when his phone rang and he saw who it was calling. I just wish there was less complications and more association between the missing boys and the missing girls other than this being the same general area. For example, the 'legend' of what prowls the woods (If you want to know what prowls the woods, you'll have to read it for yourself.) if introduced earlier could have been worked to lend to a real scary mystery of the disappearance of both sets of kids but it isn't really realized until the end. Speaking of the end, it really did tie up all the loose ends and also had a few surprising twists that I didn't see coming.
All and all, I thought it was a good book, a little complicated but good and I would recommend it.
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