Review: The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

This has been my “bedtime book” for a few weeks now, but choosing to read a chapter or two before I go to bed, in my apartment in the middle of Toronto, probably wasn’t the best idea for a good night’s rest. The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi is a thriller that follows 22 year old reporter, Evie, in 1993, when the case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka was just starting to crack open. I missed this time completely (I was eating cheerios in a high chair at that point), but that doesn’t mean the effects of this dark period in Ontario’s history didn’t have a ripple effect through my young mother and into my sister and I as we were raised.

Details of the Scarborough Rapist/Bernardo case makes a disturbing and poignant backdrop for Evie’s story. De Mariaffi drops facts from the time to bolster her riveting plot. Evie works as reporter, writing and researching missing girls, which becomes a trigger for her since she experienced a similar situation first hand when her childhood best friend was kidnapped and later found murdered. The excellent tension is derived from Evie’s past trauma, the current atmosphere, and whether Evie’s growing suspicions are a symptom her imagination or real danger. De Mariaffi’s storytelling is sharp and compelling. As genre fiction, it’s takes a left turn from her previous Giller-nominated short story collection, but The Devil You Know offers just as much entertainment.
The Devil You Know2

The Deep by Nick Cutter

DeepThis author is quickly becoming one of my favourites. You may remember Nick Cutter, the reigning creepy gore-Wizard King of CanLit from last year’s revoltingly good biological-nightmare The Troop. Now, his second novel, The Deep (out this month from simo&schu), takes us underwater where an inexplicable plague, the supernatural, and some serious family drama, turns into a gnarly tale that’s custom fit for your next sci-fi binge read.

In a nutshell, Luke is a man who has nothing to lose after his family contracts a brutal new plague called the ‘Gets. He is summoned down to an underwater science base called The Trieste, located at the bottom of Mariana’s trench. A scientific breakthrough, supposedly holding a cure to the ‘Gets, is under way with the discovery of a mysterious new substance called ‘ambrosia”. Luke’s genius-bro Clayton is a lead scientist on the project, but they haven’t had any contact with the team in months. So Luke is sent down (because family) to see what’s going on and comes face-to-face with a whole whack of otherworldly madness.

Like The Troop, Cutter doesn’t really hold back in this one either, especially when it comes to skin-crawling descriptions. But he manages to delve much deeper into the psychology of the mind when it is suddenly faced with inexplicable things. Though scientific discovery, mystery, and extreme isolation play significant roles in the development of the story, it is really each character’s self-inflicted madness that take center stage. No matter how wild things get, Cutter stays true to the notion that we can often turn into our own worst enemy when shit goes down, making things much, much worse.

IMG_5540-0Speaking of mind games and making things worse, here is a list of things Nick Cutter ruined for me in his new novel The Deep:

  • Bees.
  • The word “ambrosia”.
  • Hands.
  • Deep water.
  • Small spaces.
  • Science.
  • Dreaming.

When I say ruined, I mean it in the best way. Though I think I preferred the simplicity of the remote-island setting in The Troop, The Deep bursts open a whole new world of terror that relies heavily on the tortured psychology of its characters. The jacket calls it The Shining-meets-The Abyss, and they are absolutely correct. Cutter is truly amazing at using the mind as our most disturbed instigator. While the setting is pretty fear-inducing in itself, most of the action takes place in Luke’s mind, with elaborate dream sequences that escalate into full-on waking terrors, spurned by both the hostile environment of the Trieste and Luke’s own inner demons. Add in the threat of above (the ‘Gets) and the mystery below (Ambrosia), you’ve got a lot of pieces to pull together. Some of those pieces don’t get fully explored, which is a shame since every thread is so intriguing. Makes me wonder whether a sequel is in the works that will tackle the ‘Gets situation above the water (a wildly interesting premise that only really appears in the introduction). Either way, you’ve infected me, Cutter (sorry!). I am a lifelong fan.

Review: The Troop by Nick Cutter

afterlightI am not a big horror fan. Movie-wise anyways. I didn’t grow up watching Texas Chainsaw or Saw, except when I was forced to at sleepovers and didn’t want to seem like a chicken. Even then, I was a master at hiding behind my hands. It’s not that I don’t like to be scared, I just don’t like being jolted. Thankfully, horror literature has all the creepy crawly fun of the genre without making you leap out of your skin.  Moving on from the likes of Tony Burgess and Joe Hill, I knew I needed to read The Troop by Nick Cutter, a Simon and Schuster release from a literary Canlit novelist who has adopted a pseudonym for this truly revolting story of nature versus science.

5 teenaged Boy Scouts and their Scoutmaster go to an small uninhabited island off the coast of PEI for a weekend camping trip, something they’ve been doing for years. But the evening they arrive, a mysterious and sickly man appears on the island as well…. Straight away, we know that this is a classic case of the wrong-place-wrong-time scenario where isolation and human psychology are met with something very unnatural, causing a desperate fight for survival.

afterlightVague much? I know, I know. But I don’t want to give too much away since, as usual, I didn’t know anything about the story before I started reading it and it made for a thrilling and thoroughly chilling experience. That is the beauty of a “story of terror”, because terror, as a rule, lies in the unknown. Do yourself a favour and leave the details unspoiled. What I will say though is that for a novel that initially focuses itself on hunger, it totally destroyed my appetite. Like, beat-up-and-shredded-to-pieces-RUINED for a good 24 hours. The Troop is not to be read before dinnertime, as Steven Beattie rightfully warned me. It’s also not for the squeamish. Cutter is graphic in every sense of the word: detailed, shocking, and very effective. You can really chew on his descriptions (not that you would want to based on the subject matter).  Though his characters may have started out like the quintessential Boy Scout stereotypes (the nerd, the jock, the weirdo, the mental case) they quickly become rounded by stories from their pasts and the individual reactions to their awful situation. This is exactly the kind of writer that you want when you’re embarking on a creepy, disgusting journey. Someone who not only presents his story seamlessly, but is also able to describe every little off-putting inch of his world with excitable ease. Reading The Troop, you are truly strapped in for the ride. With a sense of foreboding obvious within a few short pages, the story never slows down and neither will you.