Dark Debts

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Karen Hall spent five years creating this vividly original story of faith confronting evil in Atlanta and Los Angeles. Her characters include Michael, a sexy Jesuit priest who is having an affair with a beautiful New Yorker editor; Cam, a reclusive southern writer who survived a murderous family only to leap to his death under mysterious circumstances; Randa, an obsessive newspaper reporter on the trail of Cam's family secret; and Jack, a lost soul who meets the love of his life just as he realizes he's losing ...
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Karen Hall spent five years creating this vividly original story of faith confronting evil in Atlanta and Los Angeles. Her characters include Michael, a sexy Jesuit priest who is having an affair with a beautiful New Yorker editor; Cam, a reclusive southern writer who survived a murderous family only to leap to his death under mysterious circumstances; Randa, an obsessive newspaper reporter on the trail of Cam's family secret; and Jack, a lost soul who meets the love of his life just as he realizes he's losing his mind. Dark Debts will give readers nightmares and fantasies, provoke fear and laughter, inspire doubt and faith.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Paramount Pictures bought rights to this story of a Jesuit priest grappling with unspeakable evil. June
Library Journal
The abridged recording of Hall's much-hyped debut novel Dark Debts simply doesn't deliver the goods. Although heralded as a supernatural thriller and marketed as a one-stop-shopping novel of romance, philosophy, theology, spiritualism, humor, irreverence, and snappy dialog, listeners will be disappointed by the many undeveloped characters and a superficial treatment of events, moral issues, and explanations for turns in the plot. Hall, a seasoned television writer on such programs as M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues, Moonlighting, and Northern Exposure, is certainly a talented storyteller, and reader Anthony Heald performs adequately; the problem lies in the inadequate abridgment. Most libraries can pass on this recording and buy an extra copy of the novel.-Kristen L. Smith, Loras Coll. Lib., Dubuque, Ia.
Donna Seaman
The path for Hall's first novel, a successful hybrid of Anne Rice and Colleen McCullough, is strewn with gold--a 150,000 first printing, film rights sold to Paramount, and a huge promotional campaign. Does it merit such a push? Sure, on the intelligent thriller scale, we'd give it a 7. Considered "one of the women under 40 who is changing America" by "Esquire", Hall is a well-respected television writer with shows such as "Roseanne", "Hill Street Blues", and "M*A*S*H" to her credit, writing experiences that have made her adept at executing snappy dialogue, solid psychology, well-paced action, and slick suspense. And the story, a tricky tale of demonic possession, isn't bad either; in fact, it's full of wit, romance, and some surprisingly articulate, on-target criticism of the Catholic Church. Hall's cast of sexy characters includes two bighearted but savvy women journalists, a handsome and deeply conflicted Jesuit priest with a shocking family history, a good-looking Georgian recluse trying to avoid the violent fate that claimed the lives of his parents and three brothers, a street priest from the Bronx specializing in exorcism, and a kind woman demonologist. Hall provides plenty of gothic moments when the "thing," a manifestation of pure evil, is present, but she never goes overboard. Hall should be applauded for writing genuinely entertaining commercial fiction grounded in serious thought instead of wasting paper on more pulp nonsense.
Kirkus Reviews
Gripping, much heralded horror debut novel by top TV scripter Hall.

The five years Hall spent on writing, revision, and deep research reap big rewards for the reader in this very serious (and spiritual) shocker. The story: A dark debt, or curse, hangs over the family of a Georgia ex-Satanist. The Landry family has been working off this debt, unbeknownst to its infected members, with insanity, suicide, robbery, murder, and even mass murder. Cam Landry, a reclusive young Los Angeles crime writer who has just signed a publishing contract for $300,000, suddenly goes berserk, robs a liquor store, kills a clerk, then commits suicide. Cam's ex- lover Randa, a journalist for an alternative newspaper, wonders what could have provoked this senseless deed. Romance blooms when the determined Randa goes to the town of Barton, outside Atlanta, to talk with the last surviving Landry, hermit Jack, who knows that insanity, murder, and perhaps suicide likely await him as well. Meanwhile, in Manhattan, Father Michael Kinney, a sexy young Jesuit who edits a far-out Catholic magazine, falls for Tess, a lapsed-Catholic New Yorker editor, when she has him write a piece about an adolescent who murdered his family after an exorcism Michael helped administer failed. Michael, it turns out, is related to the Landrys and is also being stalked by the family curse. Then, fired from his magazine job and exiled to a Georgia parish, Michael meets Jack Landry. Will Michael save Jack, then give up his Roman collar and marry Tess? Can he survive when the same demon gnawing at Jack also goes after him? And why doesn't God help Michael fight the demon?

Hall's soft-bang climax has a clich├ęd ring, but even readers skeptical of demonology will find themselves beguiled by her stringent arguments and research, all set off by strong characters and witty dialogue.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780517267868
  • Publisher: Random House Value Publishing, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/15/1998

Meet the Author

Karen Hall grew up in Virginia and attended the College of William and Mary. She has written for and produced many of the most acclaimed television shows of the 1980s and 1990s and received Emmy Award nominations for her work on M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues, Moonlighting, and The Women of Brewster Place. Ms. Hall has also been a creative consultant on Roseanne and Grace Under Fire and written for I'll Fly Away and Northern Exposure. She lives in Los Angeles and Atlanta. She also has her own web page.

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Read an Excerpt

She glanced around the bullpen, taking a quick inventory. Probably pretty boring compared to a Saturday night, but colorful nonetheless. Her bleary eyes scanned the collection of prostitutes, dope peddlers, and other assorted rejects from polite society. She wondered if she could catch something unspeakable just by breathing the air. She wondered if she cared.

The older detective was looking at her as if she'd missed a major point and she realized he'd just made some proclamation.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"Couple of hours ago, someone robbed a liquor store a few blocks from Mr. Landry's apartment building."

Was that the big news flash? She knew the liquor store he was talking about. It was on the corner of Sunset and Vista, with a wide front door angled for easy access (and getaway) from both streets. None of the businesses around it were open at night, so it really stood out. She and Cam had joked that the owner should just put a sign in the window that said rob me. ("My brothers would have used that place as an ATM," Cam had said.) But what did any of that have to do with Cam's death?

". . . Witnesses described the robber as a white male in his late thirties, about six-three, salt-and-pepper hair, wearing a nice suede jacket, sort of an odd shade of green. He asked the cashier to throw in a bottle of Chinaca tequila. Not exactly your standard profile." He smiled a little. "Your run-of-the-mill liquor-store robber will usually settle for Cuervo Gold."

Randa just stared at him. Cam had a tequila fetish that was not a secret to anyone who knew him or read his books. And she had given him a sage-green suede jacket two Christmasses ago. But surely hewasn't implying . . .

"I noticed an unopened bottle of Chinaca on Mr. Landry's desk, and it rang a bell. Far-fetched, I know, but I swung by and had one of the witnesses take a look at Mr. Landry's driver's license, and what do you know? Bingo."

It was all Randa could do not to laugh.

"That is the most asinine thing I've ever heard! It's . . . it's comical!"

"Yeah, well, I've got a nineteen-year-old stock boy over at the county morgue with a bullet wound in his chest and he ain't laughing very much."

"Well, if you think Cam had anything to do with it, you're out of your mind!"

The incredulity in her voice raised it an octave.

"What makes you so sure?" the young one asked, in his best Sergeant Friday voice. (Evidently trying to redeem his manhood, in light of his two failed pass attempts.)

"In the first place, Cam had more integrity, more humanity, than anyone I've ever known . . ." For the first time she choked up. She swallowed hard, and continued. "And he hated guns. He would never have touched a gun, much less shot someone. And then there's the fact that he'd just signed a book deal with a three hundred thousand dollar advance, which would pretty much alleviate the need to rob a liquor store!" She was practically yelling at them, which was a waste of adrenaline. This whole thing was from The Twilight Zone.

"Three hundred thousand dollars?" It was the older one who spoke, but the younger one's eyes glazed over with the sudden knowledge that he was in the wrong business. The older one recovered and continued.

"How do you know that if you haven't talked to him in a year?"

Because all of my so-called friends sent me every clipping they could get their hands on, just in case I hadn't heard.

"I read it in Publishers Weekly."

The older guy nodded as if his subscription had just lapsed, then went on.

"Well, be that as it may . . ." He looked down at his desk for a moment, then back up. His eyes met Randa's. He was obviously gearing up for something.

"The neighbors told us some interesting things about Mr. Landry's family history, which I assume you know . . ."

So, there it was. Randa had figured they would end up here eventually.

"That's exactly why I know this is crazy."

"Why's that?"

"Because it is. Look, I knew Cam for a long time, and I knew him well."

"You hadn't seen him in over a year."

"I don't think he had a soul transplant in that time."

Then why did he do what he did to you? And why did it catch you so off guard, if you knew him so well? And what on earth was that phone call about? What about what he had said . . . what had he said? "I'm in trouble I didn't even know existed." Well, he certainly knew that liquor stores existed. But what about the witnesses? Could they have been that mistaken? No one on earth looked like Cam.

"Maybe he just had you fooled." Detective Ken again. His arrogance was now enhanced by a patronizing sneer. Randa abandoned all efforts to hide her contempt.

"I don't fool that easily."

They locked eyes, and Randa did not look away as another man approached the desk. She could hear him talking to the older detective as he rustled something out of a brown paper bag.

"Back closet . . . under a pile of clothes . . ." She looked up. The older detective was holding a plastic bag. Inside, marked with a small cream-colored tag, she saw the gun. Her entire body locked with disbelief. The man was still talking.

". . . Forensics dusted it, we're waiting . . . Ballistics said send it over, they're not busy. I said there's no rush, the guy's dead . . ."

"Rush anyway."

Randa stared at the gun. Were they saying it came from Cam's apartment? Behind her, Captain Arrogance could barely contain his glee.

"Well, what do you know? Looks like you fool easier than you think."

It was nearly dawn by the time Randa got home. She sat on her sofa in a stupor, as the sun rose and the room lit up around her. She could only think, she couldn't feel. Her emotions were locked in the bottleneck of information--Cam's death, the police, the guy at the liquor store, the gun--it was too much, it numbed her. All she could do was play this strange night in her head, over and over, searching for any part of an answer.

She had finished filing her column by six o'clock--the latest in a series of tirades on the sorry state of the Supreme Court. It would be her last rant on that topic for a while, since there had been too many letters complaining that it wasn't a "local issue." Really? LA is not going to be affected by the obliteration of the Constitution? Good, I'm living in the right place. In LA, a "liberal" readership meant people who wanted to hear from other liberals on the subjects of where to eat and what movies to see. Next week she'd go back to comparing trendy shopping districts, giving everyone a break now that she'd forced them to think for ten minutes.

She had settled back to zone out in front of a true-crime miniseries that had sounded promising in the reviews. She gave it about fifteen minutes before deciding the critics all had brain tumors and turned it off. She had tried writing a letter to her sister, but when she thought about what she'd say (work sucks; I'm on another stupid diet; it actually got below seventy here yesterday) it didn't seem worth wasting stationery over. She flipped through the latest issue of Rolling Stone but couldn't bring herself to care whether or not Heather Nova's latest album was better than her last one.

It was one of those nights that reminded her she'd inherited her mother's nerves. She was consumed by a feeling of lurking doom. It made no sense, especially on a Wednesday night with her work done. The paper came out on Thursdays, so Wednesday was usually her night to relax. Not that she was someone who ever really relaxed.

Looking back on it now, it was like she'd spent the night waiting for the phone call, as if some deep, hidden part of her had known it was coming.

She had been sleeping on the edge of the bed with her head near the nightstand, and the phone had scared the hell out of her. She hated middle-of-the-night phone calls. A wrong number or someone was dead--too wide a spectrum to prepare for on a moment's notice with a pounding heart.

"Hello!" She'd answered in a tone that demanded a quick explanation.


She'd recognized the voice instantly. Cam had a very distinctive voice, smooth and almost lyrical, with traces of an accent too watered-down to be placed. She'd always loved his voice. She had thought she would never hear it again. For a millisecond she considered hanging up on him, then asked herself who she thought she was kidding.


"I have to talk to you. It's really important. I know it's late, but I have to talk to someone and you're the only person I know who might believe this."

"Believe what?"

"I can't do it on the phone. Randa, it's crazy, it's . . . Look, you always said you'd do anything for me."

"Well," she said,"that was a long time and many erroneous perceptions ago."

"I know. We can talk about that, too. You don't know . . . you can't believe the things you don't know."

"Hell, I can't believe the things I do know."

"DAMMIT, RANDA!" It was so loud and so uncharacteristic, she almost dropped the receiver. "I'm in trouble! I'm in trouble that I didn't even know existed! Now are you going to get off your ass and help me or are you just going to send a nice wreath to the funeral?"

"Okay, calm down. I'll be over as soon as I can."

"No! Not here, you can't come here."

"All right. I'll meet you at Ray's."

"Okay. Hurry."

"Okay. Bye . . ."



The line was silent as he thought. "Nothing. Just hurry."

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2005

    highly recommended!

    I bought this bargain, hardcover book on a whim for the sole reason that it will only cost me a dollar. I didn't expect it to be really good, but to my surprise it caught my attention from the very start and it didn't disappoint. The witty dialogues was a nice touch in this suspense thriller. The story per se, will instill fear and send you shivers. It was so interesting that I was tempted to snuck a lot of times on my review periods. I'm a medical intern and I'm used to nap on hospital beds in dark vacant rooms where people die but when I read this I chose to dozed of on a chair at the nurse's station. It was only for a couple of days though, I got over it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2004


    I absolutely could not put this book down and was surprised to see no other reviews. I have not stayed up all night to read (on a work day) since I was a teen. I am a parent and am not ashamed to say that I slept with the hall light on! I haven't felt fear like that in some time... well written once the action gets going. I will definately read more of this author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2002

    Interresting enough to keep you reading

    You have to read the stories over again once you have read the ending. you can really get into it the second time. The only thing that confused me the first time I read it was there was a conversation that would go on between the main character and someone in her head. The only way you could tell them apart was the voice in her head was typed with a slant. But in the end you put it together in your head and it makes sense.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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