3 Gates of the Dead

3 Gates of the Dead

4.1 23
by Jonathan Ryan

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Sometimes, the most evil things come from the most holy…

Conflicted with his faith in God and the hypocrisy of the church, Aidan Schaeffer, a young assistant pastor, is in a constant state of spiritual turmoil. When Aidan learns that his ex-fiancée is the first victim in a string of ritualistic killings, he finds himself in the middle of an even deeper

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Sometimes, the most evil things come from the most holy…

Conflicted with his faith in God and the hypocrisy of the church, Aidan Schaeffer, a young assistant pastor, is in a constant state of spiritual turmoil. When Aidan learns that his ex-fiancée is the first victim in a string of ritualistic killings, he finds himself in the middle of an even deeper fight. Tormented by demonic threats and haunted by spirits, Aidan throws himself into investigating Amanda’s death; all the while supernatural forces have begun to attack the people around him. The more questions he asks, the more he is drawn into the world of a mysterious Anglican priest, a paranormal investigation group and a rogue female detective investigating the murders. As the gruesome rituals escalate, ancient hidden secrets and an evil long buried threaten to rip Aidan’s world apart.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
★ 10/15/2013
After his parents' death in a fire and the cancellation of his engagement, Aiden Schaeffer, assistant pastor of Knox Presbyterian Church, has lost his faith in God. While wrestling with his doubts and his growing dissatisfaction with the religious community, he becomes the subject of a murder investigation. The victim: Aiden's ex-fiancée. The investigation moves on to more likely suspects, but Aiden begins his own search for the killer, a search that takes him deep into the world of the supernatural and embroils him in a battle for his soul. VERDICT Ryan's first novel skillfully blends theology, murder mystery, horror, and paranormal investigation through one man's struggle with his belief in God. Solid characterization and a grounding in his subject matter make this series opener a real attraction for fans of The Exorcist and the darker fiction of C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.
From the Publisher
“Ryan’s first novel skillfully blends theology, murder mystery, horror, and paranormal investigation through one man’s struggle with his belief in God. Solid characterization and a grounding in his subject matter make this series opener a real attraction for fans of The Exorcist and the darker fiction of C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.” —Library Journal, starred review

“Very well written . . . 3 Gates of the Dead is like a Harry Potter novel for adults.” —Sam Alexander, director of development, the Wolper Organization at Warner Bros.

“I cannot recall the last time I was so enthralled by a book that I was unable to walk away to even do the most normal things—like eat. However, that is exactly the impact 3 Gates of the Dead had on me. I became so caught up in the original story (which is refreshingly filled with lifelike characters), that time just vanished. This is a must read for all horror fans, and anyone seeking out an original and creepy tale. Even if you are not a ‘reader,’ this book is so well-written it doesn’t feel like you are reading, just that you are a fly on the wall watching the tale unfold. I cannot wait to see what Jonathan Ryan writes next; I will be first in line to read it! 3 Gates of the Dead will make one hell of a film!” —Jessica Cameron, scream queen (Truth or DareSilent NightThe Black Dahlia Haunting, TLC’s Brides of Beverly Hills

“A roller coaster ride of a horror story—the suspense keeps building and you know when you hit the other side you are going to come out screaming. This book falls in with the tradition of The Exorcist and Stephen King’s supernatural thrillers. There is a quality to the story that reminds me of Poe’s short stories at their best with their unforeseen macabre twists.” —Midwest Book Review

3 Gates of the Dead brought me to that place of intellectual terror that only results in pure joy over a book that so immediately transports one to other realms of the deeply macabre, in a primordial, Lovecraftian scope . . . and send shivers down our necks.” —Scotty Roberts, publisher, Intrepid Magazine

“Jonathan Ryan’s Bradbury-like style comes across subtle, yet terrifying. 3 Gates of the Dead is a must-read for anyone who enjoys well-developed characters, smart dialogue and a flat out awesome story. I look forward to reading more about Aidan Schaeffer and count myself as a huge Jonathan Ryan fan now. I am hooked on this series!” — T. Michelle Nelson, author of the Lily Drake Vampire series

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Product Details

Premier Publishing
Publication date:
3 Gates of the Dead Series, #1
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

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Read an Excerpt

3 Gates of the Dead

By Jonathan Ryan


Copyright © 2013 Jonathan Ryan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-4361-1


I don't know if I believe in God anymore.

I stared at the screen, my thoughts of the past few months boiled down to a single black and white sentence as I typed an email to my best friend, Brian. The thought rocked me back in my dark brown leather couch, the only nice piece of furniture I owned. Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, trembled in my hands. I couldn't bring myself to read anymore and set the book down. I reached for a piece of gooey thin crust pizza.

Bishop, my gray and white Boxer, came over and laid his head in my lap. He looked at me with sad, watery eyes. I rubbed his ears. "I know, boy, I know. After all, believing in God is part of my job description, isn't it?"

My job. I rubbed my head as I glanced down at Dawkins' book. Most of the people at my conservative evangelical church would have a problem with me even reading Dawkins in the first place. I couldn't imagine what they would think of their assistant pastor beginning to believe much of what Dawkins wrote. Many would be mad. Many would be so discouraged they might give up their own faith.

I frowned as I looked at his author picture on the cover. On one hand, Dawkins was a bit of an asshole. While my own faith seemed to be circling the drain, I had no wish to ruin other people's beliefs. Dawkins, on the other hand, seemed like a crazed trucker plowing through a crowded shopping mall. He ran over other's beliefs with a sort of manic glee that made me wonder if he just liked pissing people off.

Bishop gave a soft woof as he sniffed the pizza.

"Sorry, buddy, your mommy wouldn't approve."

He looked up at me with wide eyes.

I sighed. "I know, buddy, not like she's around to say anything, eh?"

Bishop put his head on my knees. He missed Amanda, and so did I. Her leaving had been a punch to the gut for both of us. I figured that she'd at least visit Bishop, but she'd never even asked to stop by to see him. She punished the dog who loved her.

I sat back on the couch she had bought. Amanda had said my old threadbare love seat looked like something from a frat boy's dorm. I looked around the room and realized it was the only thing in my condo that had any style. The pizza box from the previous night occupied the other end of the table, nearly falling over from all the books shoving it toward the stained carpet.

Bishop woofed at me and went into the kitchen. I got up to get him some water and caught my reflection in the patio doors. For a twenty-eight year old, who the women supposedly swooned over, I looked like hell. My wavy brown hair was disheveled and shadows lurked beneath my dark eyes. Plus, all the pizza and beer I consumed had added about seven pounds to my former soccer player physique. Sucking in my stomach, I resolved to spend more time at the gym.

I almost bumped into a stack of books heaped on my coffee table, my reading list of the past few months. Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens on one pile, John Dominic Crossan and Sam Harris on another. Each book had been well read, underlined, and pored over as I began to question God's existence after Amanda left. Her leaving hadn't been the worst thing in my life, but it was the final straw.

I sighed and looked at the stack of Stanley Kubrick movies on the floor. Kubrick and Dawkins, I thought, quite a combination for the almost faithless.

My mind began to swirl, and I grabbed for a bottle of beer. As I opened it, I had to laugh at the irony. The man in my congregation who made beer would never have guessed it might bring some comfort as I struggled with my faith.

"One good thing about being a Presbyterian, Bishop, and not a Baptist ... we get to drink beer!"

Bishop ignored me and dove into his food bowl.

I sighed. "I've got to stop talking to the dog."

I went back to my computer and stared at my words on the screen. An email just wouldn't do it. I had to say the words aloud. I had to speak my doubts so I could sort through them with a real live person.

I picked up the phone and dialed the only person I could talk to at ten o'clock at night, my college buddy Brian. The phone rang, and I heard a click as he answered.


"So, does the SEC suck by accident or as a general rule?"

"Never doubt the superiority of SEC football, you Big Ten Ass." Brian paused. "So, you must have a reason for calling this late. What's up?"

I hesitated, regretting the decision to call Brian. My doubts had gnawed at me for months, and I didn't want to shock him. Brian never doubted anything in his life, especially not the idea that God existed. He had been like that since we first met in college, a small Christian liberal arts institution in Texas.

"Aidan, are you there?"

I took a deep breath. "Yeah, bud, sorry. I'm just struggling over here and needed a friendly voice."

"Speak to me, boy."

"Well, the whole doubt thing, I think it's progressed further. I'm not sure if I believe in God anymore."

"Okay, as in you don't know if Christianity is true?"

"No, way more basic than that. I doubt God's very existence."

Brian paused. "Wait a minute. I'm going down to the man cave."

I started to pace as I waited for him to get back on the phone.

"Now, lay it out. I'm downstairs with the door shut, so speak freely."

"In other words, cuss freely, because Ashley is upstairs, eh?" I said.

"You got it."

I shouldn't have called him. He didn't need this, the late night ramblings of a pathetic, heartbroken sad-sack who no longer believed in God. I took a bite of pizza and washed it down with a big gulp of beer.

"Aidan? Hello?"

"Sorry, Brian, just sort of regret calling you."

"Shut up, man. Just spill it."

I looked at the stack of books and the flattened copy of Dawkins. "Okay, you asked for it. I guess it starts with the science questions."

Brian chuckled. "Of course it does, science boy."

"Hey, at least I'm not an Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer."

"What kind of scientific questions?"

I ran my hands through my hair. "Part of it comes from the tensions I've always struggled with, the tension between science and faith. One seems to contradict the other in a number of different areas. For example, I have always thought that irreducible complexity destroyed the idea of evolution. But now that I've been reading Dawkins, I'm starting to wonder if that's true."

"Isn't Richard a bit of a dick?"

I nearly choked on my beer. "Yeah, granted, he is a dick. That doesn't mean he's wrong though, especially on irreducible complexity."

"Simplify. Me no speak science."

I sighed. "Take the eyeball, for instance. It's a part of us that can't function without everything in place. So the question would be then, which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

"Thus proving there is a designer," Brian reasoned.

"I'd always thought so until I read Dawkins' explanation. He doesn't deny the complexity but explains it came about through slow, gradual changes until it reached perfection. Therefore, there is no need for a designer. Just give it enough time, and the change will happen naturally."

He sighed. "That makes sense, but there are gaps in our knowledge, right? Maybe that is where God moves."

"See, that's what I would have said, but even a lot of Christians find that unsatisfying. Dawkins points out that just because we don't know certain things, it doesn't mean that God is the answer to fill in the gaps. It's flawed logic."

"I guess the main problem is that God isn't exactly open to scientific investigation," Brian said.

"Yeah, and that's been bugging me. Why isn't He? Why isn't there a sensory test for Him? I want to taste, touch, see and hear Him. I want to draw His blood, pinch Him, and pound on His chest to see if He's real. I want Him to show Himself to me!"

"Bud, you don't have to yell."

Sheepishly, I lowered my voice. "I'm sorry, man; this has all been building up."

"Evidently. You aren't the only one who feels this way, you know. I've felt it a few times. But I also know that His ways are not our ways."

I hated that response. Such a cop out. I wanted to throw the phone across the room. Instead, I took another swig of beer. "See, that is what I've always said. But I'm not satisfied with that answer anymore."

"Aidan, have you ever been satisfied with those answers? Ever since we met, you have had the whole science/faith tension. But you've always dealt with it before. Why are things different now?"

I scratched my day-off beard. "I guess I've always resolved those tensions by accepting the evangelical Christian filtering of what scientists say, rather than checking it out for myself. Stupid, I know. Lately, it's all started to crash down on me. I can't overlook my doubts any longer. I'm tired of it."

I had to be honest, it felt good just to lay out eight years of questions; all the stuff I had thought about but never said. It felt like someone pulled a thorn out of my flesh.

"I wish I could help you on the science stuff," he said. "But you know way more than I do in that area, Mr. Biology Major. It sounds like there is more to your doubts than just the science questions."

That was Brian, always looking for some other answer. For a lawyer, he sure avoided the facts when it came to his faith. I had seen that often enough, intelligent people turning a blind eye to what kept smacking them in the face.

I decided not to take the bait and be a smart ass instead. "Fine, it's not just about the science. How about the history? I guess you could say I have doubts about the Bible being real history, especially the Gospels!"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, my reading has taken me into questions I didn't think too much about in seminary. For example, when, how, and who wrote the Gospels?" Beads of sweat collected on my forehead as I continued to pace around the room.

"You mean you don't think it was Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John?"

I took another swig of beer, and the room started to spin. I sat down. "Not that I can tell. It seems to me that the Gospels were written by different faith communities. They wanted to justify certain aspects of their theology. You know, the Gospels were most likely written at least seventy years after Jesus died."

"Where is the proof of that?" Brian asked, his voice starting to fill with tension. I had gone way past guarding Brian's faith.

"Well, like how some people are named in one Gospel and not named in others. Not to mention we have four different accounts of which women were at the tomb to witness the Resurrection!"

Brian's voice lowered. "I see what you mean."

"Yeah, I mean, I'm sure there are certain historical events in the Gospels, but I just don't know anymore which ones to trust, if any."

"You would know those better than me, Aidan. I'm not much of a historian when it comes to the Bible."

Bishop laid his head on my lap. I paused and rubbed his ears. For some reason, tears welled up in my eyes. I fought to steady my voice. "But beyond all that, there is one reason that's most damning of all, the one reason Jesus himself talked about."

"What's that?"

"'All men will know you are my disciples by the love you have for one another.'" I paused. "Christians are supposed to love one another as evidence that God is real. Don't see a lot of that going around." Tears ran down my cheek.

Brian paused and took a deep breath. "No, that's true. And you see evidence of that more because of your job. You are under a lot of stress with work, and you know, other things."

I gripped the phone. "What other things, Brian?"

"Don't you think your personal life has a lot to do with what you're going through? Maybe, just maybe, your doubts are more emotional than rational? I mean, I hate to bring this up, but you've had a rough year. Your parents dying in the fire and Amanda leaving are big things, bud."

I jumped up and sent the half-eaten pizza flying across the room. "Why the hell do you have to bring all that up? Can't a person have honest doubts about their faith without someone thinking they're having an emotional crisis? A lot of people don't believe in God! A lot of respectable people! Famous people don't! Smart people like Richard Dawkins or John Lennon!"

"But you're a minister," Brian fired back. "You have to believe. That's what people rely on you for, helping them with their own doubt. People in the church won't put up with it."

I kicked over a stack of DVDs. "So they get mad at me, and I lose my job. Big deal. It won't get me stoned or burned at the stake like it might have five-hundred years ago. It's been done, like when gay people come out. It used to be such a scandal, Time cover material. Now, it's a yawn fest. Very few people care anymore whether you are gay or an atheist. That is, unless you are running for president."

I paused and grinded my teeth. "The problem with you, Brian, is that you live this fairy-tale life, married to a sweet Georgia peach, have two Christmas-card kids and a huge house in the suburbs. I don't think you've fucking failed at anything in your life!"

A long bout of silence made me think Brian had hung up. My anger had clearly mixed with the beer and delivered a crushing blow. I figured he'd be too upset to reply, but I didn't care. It was about time he got a dose of the sad reality of my life.

"Listen, Aidan," he said in a soft tone. "I know things are horrible. I mean, you just lost your parents a year ago, and Amanda left a few months later. But I'm trying to help, so don't take your frustrations out on me, bro. Plus, how many beers have you had tonight?"

I looked at the empty beer bottles on the floor and on the table. "Ten, I think.

I'm sorry, man."

"Aidan, I know it sucks."

"It doesn't just suck, Brian, I-F-S!"

Brian laughed. "Yeah, man, I know."

I was glad our little college phrase brought some humor to the tense situation. We'd developed the acronym for "it fucking sucks" to avoid all the frowns from pretty, virtuous, southern-Christian girls for whom saying "fuck" ranked right up there with taking God's name in vain. That never made any sense to me, and I had many arguments as to why "fuck" is better. Most people in my evangelical school didn't buy it.

I plopped back on the couch. "I shouldn't have taken it out on you. I'm sorry. I feel a little lost. I don't have any direction right now."

"Maybe you read too much, did you ever think about that?"

"Well, yeah, you idiot. When you're not dating, you have a lot of free time on your hands, you know? It's not like I think dating and reading are mutually exclusive. I just don't have anything else to do."

Brian hit a sore spot. I hadn't dated anyone since Amanda broke off our engagement.

"Well, it's not like you aren't good-looking. I remember the girls at school loved to come out and watch you play soccer. All you have to do is man-up and ask someone. Use an online dating service or something."

I laughed, and Bishop raised his head. "Funny you should say that. I did exactly that two weeks ago."

"And what kind of responses did you get?"


"More info, man, more info."

I sighed. "It's like this. Half of the responses I get are from the unbelievably-holy Christian girl who was home-schooled, wants to marry a pastor and spend her life entertaining the ladies of the church. The other half comes from girls who, to put it nicely, wish to deflower a pastor. The joke is I've already been deflowered. Too bad for them."

Brian laughed. "Revenge on God by screwing, eh? Or an unhealthy church upbringing."

"I guess. Both types creep me out."

"Come on, Aidan, I'm sure something will work out. There's no need to give up your faith in God over it. I have a book that might help."

I busted up laughing. "Dude, that's such an evangelical response. Gloss over it and offer them a book. Besides, I've probably already read it."

"Well, have you talked to Mike?"

I closed my eyes. I had thought about it many times, but how do you tell your boss you may no longer believe the main values of the company?

Bishop peered up at me and whined. His boxer-mutt face pained with the look of a full bladder.

"Okay, buddy, I know, walk time."


Excerpted from 3 Gates of the Dead by Jonathan Ryan. Copyright © 2013 Jonathan Ryan. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Jonathan Ryan is an author, screenwriter, columnist, blogger, and member of the Horror Writers Association. His debut horror mystery novel, 3 Gates of the Dead (Open Road Media), earned rave reviews from the New York Journal of Books, the Midwest Book Review, and Library Journal. The second book in his 3 Gates of the Dead series, Dark Bride, is set for release in 2015.

A practiced public speaker, Ryan incorporates topics of writing and religion into his lectures. He has contributed to the Huffington Post, Christianity Today, the High Calling, TAPS ParaMagazine, Intrepid Magazine, the popular horror site DreadCentral.com, and Patheos.com, where he has a regular blog called the Rogue. Ryan took his vows to become a Benedictine oblate novice with St. Meinrad Archabbey. He lives in South Bend, Indiana.

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