Mysterion, April 2021
Reviewed by Michelle Ristuccia
In “The Secret Place of the Lord” by J. L. Royce, FBI agent Armitach investigates disappearing cadavers at the former McHugh Air Force Base, where deceased soldiers and CDC AIDs victims are watched over by one lone Reverend, Reverend Jones. What should be a simple robbery investigation ends in an event that defies scientific explanation. Royce’s engaging prose brings readers into the moment and fills in backstory with ease, waxing poetic in places, and drilling down direct and efficient in others. Themes surrounding the AIDs epidemic are presented in a way that encourages readers to think, rather than telling readers what to think. Many questions remain unanswered, but in a way that makes this a great strength of the story. Reverend Jones in particular is an appreciably complex character, allowing for nuances in the intersection of religion and homosexuality—as is a character that appears at the end of a story. I would have liked to see the POV character Armitach somewhat more personally invested in or to have more agency over the story within his role of observer, to get a stronger sense of what this discovery means to him. Yet in another sense, the story is not about Armitach or people like Armitach. Overall, “The Secret Place of the Lord” is an engaging, thoughtful, and optimistic story that purposefully sits close to reality.
Michelle Ristuccia enjoys slowing down time in the middle of the night to write, read, and review speculative fiction, because sleeping offspring are the best inspiration. Find her on Facebook and twitter @mrsmica.