Three people narrate the story. The first is Sister Adelaide, an elderly church member who objects to the handling of snakes and poisonous drinks to prove a member's faith.
Jess Hall is the second narrator. He's an innocent nine-year-old who is curious about what goes on behind the covered windows of the church. His brother, Christopher, known as Stump, is age thirteen. Stump doesn't talk and Jess attempts to look out for him.
The final narrator is the sheriff. He's a good man named Clem Barefield. When he gets word that a child has been killed at the church, his feelings become known. Like Sister Adelaide, he doesn't accept some of the deadly practices of the church and thinks that church officials should be held accountable for what goes on there.
Clem and is considered an outsider to the local people. He investigates Carson Chambliss, the church pastor. He discovers that Carson had been in prison for drugs and was present when a teenage girl died. Chambliss claims that he's found God and has such power over his congregation that Clem wonders if he will get anyone to give evidence against them.
There is a particularly powerful scene just after a child's death when church members try to force themselves into the man's home, in order to speak to the child's mother. The father blocks their way and a physical confrontation results. It reminded me of a scene in "The Grapes of Wrath," where officials try to force their way into a social event in order to stir up trouble but are turned away.
The writing is superb and this story will pull at the reader's heart and leave them thinking about the events in the novel for a long time.