I have been hearing about Andrew Pyper’s The Demonologist for months now all over social media, on CBC…everywhere. So naturally, I was curious. After reading it, I can say that I really haven’t read a lot of books like it. Thrillers aren’t my go-to and the closest thing that I could think of was The DaVici Code, as a comparison, though that isn’t meant to be a turn off. The Demonologist has many of the strengths of that ol’ Tom Hanks juggernaut like a fast pace, dark secrets, mysterious characters, and a relentless pursuit influenced by cultural sources. I’m glad I paid attention to the hype because now I want to read more (and Pyper’s has 4 other novels…) The story follows University professor David Ullman during an “otherworldly” turn of events that leave him and his young daughter in danger of a demonic undertaking. Ullman becomes wrapped in a fight against time and faith as he uncovers both ancient and modern mysteries, faces his own demons and the reality of hell on Earth.
The story succeeded in unnerving me enough to check around the corners of my own home in the broad daylight. Author Pyper has a way of describing his grotesque imagery without the kind of grandiose build up and that can leave you deflated. Good timing is everything and some scenes really sneak up on you. But The Demonologist doesn’t have to rely solely on scare tactics because there is more to it. The dialogue is snappy and clever and the plot is full of quick turns and some great descriptions and insight. The success of the novel lies in the way it balances urgency, emotion and fear.
John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost is a big part of the novel. Ullman’s character teaches a literature course that specializes in the poem, which leads him to hold the unofficial title of “demonologist”. The poem serves as a source of clues and information throughout and Ullman’s knowledge of it becomes his advantage. Familiarity with Paradise Lost or Milton is not a prerequisite for reading, though I can see where it might’ve come in handy. If a demon was going to quote any literary work, Paradise Lost, a poem devoted to the devil seems like the appropriate choice. Sympathy for the Devil a close second.
While reading I couldn’t help but think how well this book would translate to the big screen (and it might be soon!). It’s progression is nice and linear and it’s especially visual – between the geographical locations we visit and the myriad of strange paranormal events that take place. That being said, the ending was a little hurried. For a story that is already shrouded in a lot of mystery, I felt that there were still a few key questions that could have used clearer answers. Though, I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to loose ends (I normally prefer them) and I don’t think it infringed on the overall experience of the novel. I found The Demonologist to be a spiritual wild-goose chase with both literary and psychological depth and the high entertainment factor of the the novel more than made up for it’s quick conclusion.
Now….the cover is a little gaudy. Shimmering text, textured jacket and what looks like flaming ancient parchment enveloping a peek-a-boo eyeball. Especially the eyeball. Though, I have to admit it works because I definitely took a peek behind the dusk jacket to see what the peep hole lead to.
Drama on all sides.
And what’s more dramatic than the devil?