I don’t quite know what’s going on here. Not with the book so much, but in trying to get my thoughts on it down on paper (or the screen. You know what I mean).
I’ve never been a huge horror fan, but even with my limited experience of the genre I can tell that this is a fairly tepid reheating of some thumpingly unoriginal demonic possession tropes and clichés. The plot is so linear as to make Ninety-Mile Straight look like the Stelvio Pass and the characters (disapproving mother-in-law, hysterical wife, bad influence best friend) are so mass-produced and off-the-shelf that they probably have Made in China stamped on the soles of their feet. They are also astoundingly stupid. Not stupid in a ‘this is an inherent facet of the human condition’ kind of stupid, but stupid in a ‘the plot would completely dissolve if they displayed any problem solving abilities at all’ kind of stupid. Kim Bauer stupid.
It also feels over-written despite its relatively short length; if all the repeated incidents of the protagonist replaying his worries over his dark secret, or his wife being hysterically (yet plot-enablingly) obstructive were cut out then it’d be about half the length. The narrative voice appears to be third-person limited, but its PoV jumps about in ways that make little intuitive or narrative sense, and while the prose is generally serviceable, there are far too many examples like this –
He told himself Charlie was just sick, that she had the flu and that was it – but he couldn’t unknow what he knew, and he couldn’t unfeel the certainty that coursed through him like a quick-spreading disease.
Not SARS, you note, or Spanish Flu, or snake venom or botulism or even just good old-fashioned cancer. Nope, “A quick-spreading disease.” So basically we're saying it spread through him quickly like a quick-spreading thing. Brilliant.
And yet I finished it, and finished it in just a couple of sittings. I’m still not entirely sure how that happened, but if I were to hazard a guess I’d say that for all its linearity the plot still contained just enough mystery to keep me going: why is he haunted by his past? What happened in the family home all those years ago? What sinister forces are really at play? Why the fuck does he have that tattoo? I’m now going to spoil all of these, right after this picture of some lovely kittens.
The devil made him do it.
I can’t help but feel that this ending is a bit of a swizz. You plod through all that by-the-numbers prose and plot and you at least hope there’s going to be some kind of twist to it, that all the obvious stuff is just a double bluff for the big reveal at the end. Instead the end is just, well... Obvious. It’s clearly intended as a chilling, ‘the devil always wins’ parting shot à la The Omen, but instead it just felt that after all that scraping there really was nothing left in the idea barrel, after all. The major tropes of the Abrahamic religions have been around for quite a while now, so the fact that the devil is evil really doesn't come as that much of a surprise any more.
If you’re not a horror fan then there probably isn’t enough in the way of quality writing or compelling characterization here to hold your interest, and if you are a horror fan then I suspect you’ll have already heard this story many times before. Maybe I’m just one of the lucky ones who fell into the sweet spot between the two.