Completed 9/7/2015, Reviewed 9/8/2015
I’ve always liked horror even though it gives me nightmares rather easily. “The Exorcist” scared me so badly I hid the book in a closet until I had the courage to take it out and get rid of it. I’ve read a lot of Stephen King and Clive Barker, among others, trying to re-experience having a book scare me that much. When I saw the title for this book, it pulled me in. With possessed people, disappearing children, and talking dead, this certainly seemed to fit the bill. Well, it’s not “The Exorcist”, but it’s still pretty scary, and a darn well written book.
David Ullman is a professor of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, as well as other literature with demonic content, though he doesn’t believe in any of it. His life is falling apart: his wife is divorcing him and his best friend has stage four cancer. So when out of the blue he is asked to come to Venice to observe a phenomenon, all expenses paid, he jumps at the chance to get away for a bit. He brings his daughter for the couple day getaway. What he sees is horrifying and has consequences for both him and his daughter. Now he must piece together clues from Milton and random acts of horror around the country to save his daughter from hell.
Sounds like a great promo for a movie. Well, it’s supposedly under development. But the first thing you think when you hear this is how will it be made into a film. Most of the terror is psychological. Yes, bad and scary things happen, but most of the terror that happens takes place in David’s head and his head alone. That’s where it gets you. Is he sane or insane? Is this happening because of tragedy in his childhood? Is it because he and his daughter are “melancholy” souls? That’s what really makes this book great and it makes you wonder if any of that can be captured on film.
Like all flawed characters, David tries to do this alone. Told in first person present, it creates an immediacy to his fears and feelings through this ordeal, increasing the tension and anticipation of the climax. By the way, this book was nominated for a Shirley Jackson award, for novels with psychological horror. It totally deserves it.
It’s tough to go too far into this book because it is quite short. Expounding on characterization and plot gives too much of a spoiler. And sometimes I can’t exactly explain why I like a book. I just liked it. It scared me. The important thing to take away from the review is that David gets into your head, and as flawed as his thinking may be throughout his journey, you’re right there with him, debating the reality of the demons he only ever believed in as a literary device, and coming to grip with the examples of their reality all around him. I give this book four stars out of five. It didn’t keep me up nights, but it gave me enough chills to know this is a well written romp through one of my favorite genres.