My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I did not expect to read such an old-fashioned literate horror novel, especially after Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon books have emasculated this particular sub-genre into a series of tepid thrillers. Unfortunately, this probably means that The Demonologist is something of a curiosity, unlikely to appeal to the torture-porn crowd. While there is genuine suspense and outright creepiness here, there is hardly any gore or bloodshed.
It is ironic therefore that Andrew Pyper’s superbly paced novel plays out like a Hollywood blockbuster, with the story keeping the reader glued to the pages. Unfortunately, this is precisely the sort of novel that Hollywood is likely to fuck up, ignoring the literary pretensions and turning the character of the possessing demon into a stock horror trope. In the hands of Pyper, Belial becomes a frightening but curiously human monster, by turns vain, petulant and capable of startling malevolence.
At the beginning, this kind of reminded me of Song of Kali by Dan Simmons, set in New York and Venice instead of India. The problem with doing a lot of reading is that anything starts to seem like everything else after a while, especially with genre reading.
It is to the credit of Pyper therefore that this novel grabbed me from the first page, and I read it flat-out in a single day. There is nothing particularly original here: Professor David Ullman, a self-confessed “melancholy Miltonist” (wouldn’t that have made a much better title?) receives a visit from a mysterious gypsy-like woman who invites him to consult on a case in Venice.
Of course, the good professor immediately dismisses the woman as a crank, but events quickly conspire so that he takes her up on the offer, with his young daughter in tow … with predictably disastrous consequences, as befits a horror novel of this nature.
What makes this novel stand out is the quality of Pyper’s writing, particularly his deft characterisation – which immediately raises this head and shoulders above your average Robert Langdon potboiler. The ending, in particular, is heart-stopping and brilliantly executed. Superb.