Simon and Schuster Canada
5 March 2013
Hardcover: 304 Pages
Adult – Suspense – Horror
“Milton was right about the joy of offspring … But trust me, he was way off about marriage as being common with paradise.” (19)
“Who sits in a church in the middle of a weekday afternoon? Drunks, runaways, addicts in all their varieties. The lost who have only themselves to blame. I know because I sit among them. Praying for the first time in my adult life.” (88)
Everyone, including Andrew Pyper, himself, warned me that The Demonologist is a book to be read only with the lights on because it’s “an unapologetic, full-fledged horror novel”. So, I didn’t dare crack open its pages until I was in a locked and well-lit room, fully prepared to crawl out of my skin. I can think of no higher compliment to give Andrew and his masterful work than this: I was much too entranced by his story to be scared by it. As it turns out, I was kept awake for two consecutive nights—but not because I was too frightened to sleep lest I awoke to a stealthily moving shadow in the corner of the room. I stayed up two nights in a row reading because I was much too impatient to wait to find out how the story ends. The Demonologist is an intelligently written novel about David, a professor who makes a living lecturing about John Milton’s Paradise Lost but who doesn’t personally believe in the biblical events that inspired it. Our main character is forced to re-examine his beliefs, however, when his precious daughter, Tess, disappears during their trip to Italy. Identifying clues from Milton’s poem and memories of his childhood, David must race against time (and supernatural foes) to save his innocent daughter. Andrew’s novel encompasses suspense, adventure, heartache, and humour, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. His incredible narrative skills will take you alongside David’s international journey: You’ll feel everything he feels, including his paralyzing fear at who or what is lurking in the dark corners of every room he enters and his pessimism that he will ever shake off whatever has had a grip on his soul his whole life.
Plot & Pacing
It took me two nights/early mornings to read The Demonologist, and that’s only because pesky work got into the way. This story successfully injects a new plot with elements of a (centuries-) old story. In fact, as someone who only read Milton’s Paradise Lost to pass a university exam (and then promptly forgot everything afterwards), I would say that in shedding light on some of the poem’s more obfuscating—and arguably beautiful—passages, Andrew has managed to make me interested in re-reading Milton. As a teacher myself, David’s life interests me, and I really enjoyed Andrew’s decision to have his protagonist’s profession inform the course of the story. A mysterious and very tempting offer, a trip to a city teeming with history, an enviable father-daughter relationship, and anyone’s greatest nightmare of losing the one you love … What more could I have asked for in a plot? (Oh, and after a devil of a time racing across North America, you’ll be completely satisfied with the ending.)
There’s nothing formulaic about any of Andrew’s characters. David is a good person whose reticence and inability to connect deeply with his wife, Diane, is both understandable and pitiable. He really loves his daughter, Tess, and for me, that almost redeems his less-than-admirable bond with Diane. Tess and David are so similar to one another, and it’s no surprise the lengths he goes to find her when she disappears. Although we don’t see much of Tess in the novel, her presence permeates the pages through David’s thoughts and feelings. One can’t help but admire the strength and awareness of this 11-year-old girl. There is also O’Brien, another professor whose wit and sarcasm match David’s own, and whose intelligence complements his rather than rivals it. A strong, female character who functions as David’s champion and conscience, her presence in his life really contributes to his interesting character. I won’t go into too much detail about the antagonist … I’ll let him do the introductions himself. But let me tell you, The Demonologist is a very apt title for this book.
Andrew paints perfect scenes. From depicting the unbearable heat of New York in late spring to describing the streets of Venice for those of us who may never see it in person, he eloquently takes his readers along with his characters as they jump from place to place. That one scene in Venice, for example, in the room with the video camera … Yeah, I didn’t really want to be there, but there I was anyway. I also loved Andrew’s scattered references to Toronto, the Muskoka Lakes, and the Leafs. As a proud Canadian, references to his home and native land made me smile, like we were sharing a secret about this great corner of the world.
Style & Writing
Sometimes, a writer shows his/her skills in the characters’ elegant turns of phrases and archaic or sesquipedalian words. The strength of Andrew’s writing stems from the seamless way that his words meld with the reader’s own thoughts. His liberal use of em-dashes for asides in his narration—which I enjoy—and the realistic dialogue between two professors who, in the hands (pens?) of another author may have spouted speeches rather than spoken like normal people combine to demonstrate his prowess at the written word. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t have elegant turns of phrases. Rather, he places more value on authentic dialogue and unique voices than on making his characters “sound smart” through polysyllabic words.
Five Tags & Shelf Life
Teachers, are you looking for potential teachables?
Find me here.
Grab a copy of The Demonologist from Chapters/Indigo or from your friendly neighbourhood bookstore.
Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of
The Demonologist for review. All opinions and suggestions expressed herein are entirely my own; I received no compensation for them.