THE DEMONOLOGIST by Andrew Pyper (Simon & Schuster), 287 pages, $29.99 cloth. Andrew Pyper launches The Demonologist at the Gladstone, Monday (March 4). See Readings. Rating: NNNN
Andrew Pyper is ridiculous. But his fans wouldn't want it any other way. They love his thrillers' improbable plots, the terrifying monsters, the soulful protagonists.
He's got his formula down again in his sixth chiller, The Demonologist.
When David Ullman, an academic with a specialty in Milton - specifically Paradise Lost - is invited by a strange, otherworldly woman to travel to Venice to consult on a "case," he's hesitant at first but can't resist taking the trip, his daughter Tess in tow.
There, he has a horrifying encounter with a man possessed, and that's followed by the even more harrowing sight of his daughter jumping off the roof of his hotel into the Grand Canal. "Find me," she whispers as she falls.
He tries, but various disciples of the Devil keep getting in the way. And as David makes his journey, Pyper piles on the devices. In multiple "don't open that door" scenarios, our intrepid hero ignores all obvious signs of danger.
Coincidence figures prominently, too. David's copy of Paradise Lost keeps opening to pages with crucial clues, and when he runs into trouble, he soon comes across newspaper stories that put him back on the trail.
But Pyper's a star because he writes so spectacularly. The entire story is drenched in dread, and his most terrifying scenes are so vivid, you'd best not be reading the book just before hitting the sack.
He also takes care to develop rich characters and relationships. In this case, David, a man with a tragic past, has never been able to shake his melancholy - except when his sad-sack daughter is around - and his platonic friendship with fellow scholar Elaine is the kind that's rarely portrayed.
Which is why I have to say once again, even knowing that genre fiends will protest, that - despite his success (The Demonologist is in film development with Robert Zemeckis) - I can't wait until Pyper delivers a straight-up novel without the horror trappings.
Wasn't it just last year that Will Ferguson moved away from humour and travel writing to pen the Giller-winning 419? When will Pyper exorcise those demons?