Shrine by James Herbert (1984)
James Herbert (1943-2013) was one of the most popular British horror writers of the last fifty years. producing 23 novels and one graphic novel over a career that spanned thirty-eight years, and being honored with an OBE and being named a World Horror Grand Master.
Shrine, Herbert's ninth novel, tells the story of an eleven-year-old girl who suddenly gained "miraculous" powers; it drew heavily on the author's Roman Catholic heritage. Journalist Gerry Fennwas driving down a lonely country road one night when a small figure darted in from of his car. Fenn was able to stop in time, but the girl, clad only in a nightgown, ran across the road, into the brush, and across an old graveyard. Following her, Fenn finds her in the middle of a field, sitting in front of an old oak tree. She appeared to be in a serene trance, uttering only three words: "she's so beautiful." Fenn takes her to the nearest lighted building, the home of Father Hagan, the priest of St. Joseph's Church. Fenn learns that the girl, Alice Padgett, has been a deaf mute for the past seven years.
Soon a cult develops around the young girl, drawing believers and the curious both to the small church. Alice reports seeing the Virgin Mary in the oak tree. She appears to give people a needed sense of peace. The she "cures" five people of different chronic ills. She levitates. She truly appears blessed by God.
But some have doubts. Father Hagan notes an "emptiness" in the church. Monsignor Delgard, the Church's paranormal investigator, is also hesitant to proclaim Alice's visions and powers as inspired by God. Fenn, himself a disbeliever, searches for a rational explanation.
And then three people close to young Alice die. An explosion at a gas station kills more. A statue of Mary in St. Joseph's begins to change. Records for the first millennium of church, which dates back to the 700's, are missing. When Fenn finally finds them, he is attacked by another statue of Mary. Centuries-old sins echo forward to the present day. A ghastly burned figure haunts the area. There are hints of reincarnation, ancient curses, and demonic possession. Despite the violent apocalyptic ending, the reader is left to decide as to what was behind everything.
As usual for Herbert, this is a very good horror novel. Unusual, perhaps, is the pace of the book. It often plods, especially in the first half of the book. Minor characters are introduced, and then dropped for a couple hundred pages, then suddenly reappear -- leaving the reader to puzzle out who the hell they are, and to backtrack through the novel to find their backstories. The ending is rushed and inconclusive.
As I said, this is a very good horror novel. With a stern and judicious editor it could have been a very great horror novel