The Demonologist, by Andrew Pyper, ended up on my to-read list a few months back because of the book ads. Every time I logged onto Goodreads, there would be that red ad. And that extremely interesting title.
So I guess book ads do work. At least, they work on me!
Although it does help if you have an eye-catching title.
I’ve seen The Demonologist compared to The Da Vinci Code, but I wouldn’t make that comparison. And no, not because I didn’t like The Da Vinci Code, because I did – I think Dan Brown’s a great storyteller, and The Da Vinci Code was a book that kept me turning the pages.
But I wouldn’t put Brown down as having a particularly good writing style; his gift lies in his storytelling, and not in the prose he uses.
Pyper’s prose is fuller, more capable; he’s very good at building up an eerie, melancholy atmosphere. And while the book ultimately does becoming more of a page turner, Pyper does it without sacrificing that atmosphere. I’ve seen other people compare The Demonologist to The Historian, which I haven’t read, but that does sound like a more likely comparison.
The Demonologist starts slowly, taking about three or four chapters before it really gets going. I usually decide whether to keep reading a book by the first few chapters at the most, but it took me a lot longer to know exactly how I felt about this one.
By the middle of the book, though, I was hooked.
So, what’s The Demonologist about?
David Ullman is an English professor, and a leading authority on demonic literature, with a specialty in Milton’s Paradise Lost. A mysterious woman shows up at his office and offers him an all-expenses paid trip to Venice in order to witness a “phenomenon”. The trip is funded by her client; she refuses to disclose anything more.
With his marriage falling apart, Ullman ends up accepting the tickets; he decides to take Tess, his twelve-year-old daughter, with him. He and Tess are very close, and the trip seems like just the thing to help them both cope with the dissolution of Ullman’s marriage.
In Venice, he follows the instructions he’s been given and ends up witnessing the rantings of a man who appears to be possessed. Disturbed by the episode, he arrives back at his hotel, only to find his daughter missing. A frantic search leads him to the hotel’s rooftop; Tess stands along the edge, poised to jump to her death. She too, appears to be possessed, but she manages to say to him, “Find me” as she jumps.
And from the last paragraph of the jacket copy:
What follows is an unimaginable journey for David Ullman from skeptic to true believer. In a terrifying quest guided by symbols and riddles from the pages of Paradise Lost, David must track the demon that has captured his daughter and discover its name. If he fails, he will lose Tess forever
Did I find The Demonologist scary? It was creepy up until about three-quarters of the book; I know at one point I was very glad I was reading it while everyone was home, doing their own thing all around me. But for some reason as I neared the ending, I wasn’t finding it nearly as creepy anymore. I’m not too certain why; it might have been because the demon started seeming more human. Still incredibly evil, but with quite human motivations, and for me it was the supernatural feel that fueled the creepiness.
If I had to pick the creepiest section, I’d have to say the scene with the Reyes sisters. I definitely wouldn’t want to read that scene late at night with no-one else around.
There were a lot of things I liked about The Demonologist. I liked O’Brien, Ullman’s friend, and Ullman’s relationship with her. There was also Ullman’s relationship with his daughter Tess – a very sweet relationship that was also believable. The Paradise Lost bits were interesting – and I’ve never read Paradise Lost, so if you haven’t, don’t let that put you off the book. You definitely don’t have to have read Paradise Lost to enjoy it.
Where the book failed to work for me was in the ending. All through the book, Ullman demonstrates that he’s definitely changed from being a skeptic to being a true believer – but the belief he demonstrates is a belief in the demonic. Who wouldn’t, with all those horrific things happening to him? But the ending is supposed to show us he’s become a believer in God, too, a believer in the goodness that opposes evil, and this transition just didn’t feel credible to me. The whole ending felt rushed, and there were so many unanswered questions. I would have liked to have seen the ending stretched out, encompass at least another chapter, if not more.
Overall, though, I did enjoy The Demonologist, and would recommend it if you’re looking for a more literary kind of horror story.