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Kristi DeMeester. Word Horde, $16.99 trade paper (314p) ISBN 978-1-939905-29-1

For her debut novel, short story veteran DeMeester has cooked up a concept that will make readers squirm, but the story lacks narrative coherence. Reporter Cora Mayburn is still haunted by the abuse that a preacher inflicted on her in her childhood when she’s asked to take an assignment in Hensley, N.C., in 1988. She’s given two weeks to interview Pastor Michael Wayne, a snake handler, and uncover something interesting and worth writing about. What she finds is 16-year-old Leah McDowell, who was born with a red mote in her eye and seems to be a host for something horrifying, and a town on the brink of ushering in an ancient evil called the Great Worm. Cora is only vaguely sympathetic, and she keeps offering to help Pastor Wayne even though she finds him repulsive. However, some scenes are genuinely shudderworthy, particularly those involving the transformation of Hensley’s children into creatures who creatively slaughter their parents for fun, and the sweaty, gritty Appalachian setting is full of religious fervor and salacious secrets. Sex (including fantasies about a teen girl) often shares the page with violence, and readers shouldn’t expect a tidy conclusion. (May)