THE DEMONOLOGIST by Andrew Pyper tells the story of a professor of demonic mythology who is confronted by a very real demon that wants him to help bring demons out of the realm of story and into the real world. I liked it. Though I didn’t find it particularly frightening, it’s a very well written story. I’m on a bit of a literary horror bender right now, and I’d consider THE DEMONOLOGIST a gold standard for that subgenre.
The book reads like Michael Chabot wrote a horror novel. A witty, erudite professor lives in Manhattan, has a precocious daughter, exchanges witty banter with a professional colleague who functions as his story “ally,” and his marriage is on the rocks. When he’s hired to go to Venice to examine a phenomenon, resulting in his daughter being taken from him by a demon, he is forced to use his knowledge of demonic lore (specifically, John Milton’s PARADISE LOST) to find her. His pursuit becomes a game between him and the demon. He wants his daughter back. The demon wants something from him.
I loved the writing, enjoyed the characters, and found a number of scenes satisfyingly creepy. But I never really engaged with the story on an emotional level. The protagonist is, well, just too darn witty. He regards most of the situations he finds himself in at a safe emotional distance, such as the breakup of his marriage, and when he talks about the demon and what’s happening to him, he resorts to banter when real conversation is called for. My biggest disappointment was a failed expectation. I was hoping the novel would be about a man using his knowledge of demonology to crack a mystery. Instead, we find the character very, very loosely relating passages in PARADISE LOST to city names, that kind of thing, and pursuing the demon accordingly. This left a real opportunity on the table, which was for the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the broad spectrum of demonic lore and see the protagonist use it to solve a mystery, the way we’d see in a Dan Brown or Michael Crichton novel and what makes those books so darn entertaining.
But okay, for what I did get, I liked it. It’s an entertaining story told with a sophisticated voice, well-developed characterization, and some creepy scenes. I liked the author enough I picked up THE ONLY CHILD, his next novel.