When a copy of Andrew Pyper's novel "The Demonologist" (Simon & Schuster) arrived in the mail last week, I took a quick glance and inhaled sharply at the plot description--a menacing demonic mystery, a scholar of John Milton, and a lost girl--and then I muttered two simple words: I'm in.
Pyper's publisher has a fantastic novel on its hands to promote this month and during the spring. But, just in case the plot elements aren't enough to grab readers, the publisher has prepared a two-piece cover design that's just as arresting as the plot.
It's a riff on that creepiest of old horror tropes--the eye at the keyhole.
When you strip the jacket off the book, you discover who this spy is: On the front cover, a young girl's face looks out from between two dark, molten-red images of the fallen rebel angels entering the infernal palace of Pandemonium.
I won't blow the connection between the story's narrator and this young girl. Instead, I'll just point out that English majors aren't the only fans of Milton's "Paradise Lost" -- some of the diabolic creatures described by the poet also happen to be fans who "share a passion for words" with the story's narrator, Miltonic scholar David Ullman.
Ullman knows Milton's work well--so well, in fact, that he's hired by an enigmatic woman for a job (he doesn't know what kind, only that his expertise is perfect) that requires traveling to Venice, which is fine with him. He needs an escape. His marriage is crumbling. His life is a mess. And he forgets all about it after a terrifying encounter that begins with an insane Venetian gentleman--or is he demonically possessed? Why else would he be strapped to a chair?
It's only the beginning.
Soon, Professor Ullman is on a desperate search that's also painfully personal, and he confronts an entity known only as the Unnamed that mocks him with Milton's poetry--"live while ye may, yet happy pair," it says in one chilling scene--even though it also needs his help as a messenger.
That's enough. You'll have to read the book for more.
Horror and gothic suspense are categories that publishers can count on, and that's why there's a steady stream of both each season. But there's so much of it that some books, like Pyper's (or another devilish favorite of mine from a few year's ago, "The Testament of Gideon Mack" by James Robertson), may not get as much attention as they deserve.
Which is why I applaud the cover design--and Pyper's story. He gives readers an engaging thriller that invites us into the depths of arcane subjects with an ease and authority that few writers possess. Pyper, happily, is one of these.
- The Works of John Milton (spr07.wordpress.com)
- The Demonologist (scribd.com)
- Book Review: "The Testament of Gideon Mack" by James Robertson (weescoops.wordpress.com)
- The Road to Hell (theredserpent.wordpress.com)