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The Hellfire Club

The Hellfire Club

3.4 9
by Peter Straub

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"Surprising twists [and a] wildly inventive plot."
--The New York Times

They are dying, one by one. Wealthy, middle-aged women in an exclusive Connecticut suburb. Their murderer remains at large. Nora Chancel, wife of publishing scion Davey Chancel, fears she may be next. After all, her past has branded her a victim . . . .

"Combines the


"Surprising twists [and a] wildly inventive plot."
--The New York Times

They are dying, one by one. Wealthy, middle-aged women in an exclusive Connecticut suburb. Their murderer remains at large. Nora Chancel, wife of publishing scion Davey Chancel, fears she may be next. After all, her past has branded her a victim . . . .

"Combines the intellectual-puzzle mystery with a powerful vein of psycho-thriller suspense."
--The Washington Post

Then Davey tells Nora a surreal story about the Hellfire Club, where years before he met an obsessed fan of Chancel House's most successful book, Night Journey--a book that has a strange history of its own. . . .

"One of the most chilling villains to come along since Hannibal Lecter."
--San Francisco Chronicle

Suddenly terror engulfs Nora: She must defend herself against fantastic accusations even as a madman lies in wait. And when he springs, she will embark on a night journey that will put her victimhood to rest forever, dead or alive. . . .

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The Hellfire Club moves like an express train.”

The New York Times

The Washington Post

San Francisco Chronicle

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Continuing his shift away from occult horror toward terrors inspired by the ragged social fabric of American life, Straub (The Throat) turns in another violent yet richly nuanced thriller. As in much of his work (Mystery; Koko), the past impinges on the present through secrets kept, then revealed. Here, the secrets are both familial and literary. Four women in upscale Westerholm, Conn., have disappeared from blood-spattered bedrooms. Meanwhile, Westerholm resident Nora Chancel, who's newly menopausal, broods about a stalking wolf while her husband, publisher Davey Chancel, a decade her junior, obsesses about the novel trilogy (begun in 1939) written by Chancel House's most popular writer, Hugo Driver. When yet another woman disappears, Nora learns that Davey once had an affair with her. Then the woman shows up, only to accuse Nora of kidnapping and torturing her, leading to Nora's arrest. But also at the police station is Dick Dart, scion of an old local family, who is being questioned about the killings. Dart steals a cop's gun, grabs Nora as his hostage and, he believes, potential future accomplice-and the woman's real agony begins. Dart, a serial killer who has always loved ``cutting things up. Loved it,'' rapes Nora and takes her on a grisly spree of terror. In time, Nora manages to escape, but in a surprising yet, with hindsight, seemingly inevitable turn of events, she again finds herself in mortal danger. Dart is a memorable villain, funny, bold and charming (and as difficult to kill as Rasputin). Nora proves his equal, however, gutsy and clever, and as the two clash, the secrets that Straub intimates early on reveal themselves. These secrets manifest neither easily nor predictably, however, for, as is said of characters in a Driver novel, Straub's own characters are ``colorful and involved, full of danger, heroism and betrayal''-as is this supple, exciting book. Major ad/promo. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Straub (The Throat, Dutton, 1994) delivers a complicated two-fold thriller. A former nurse in Vietnam, Nora Chancel lives in Westerholm, Connecticut, with her ineffectual husband, Davey. While visiting the local police station to identify the most recent victim of a serial killer, Nora is kidnapped by the accused killer, the satirical villain Dick Dart. Intertwined with the kidnapping plot is an account of the terrifying events that followed the writing of a horror story at the Shorelands writers' colony in 1938. Fighting her own demons from Vietnam, Nora becomes stronger and braver as the story progresses. The climax brings the two stories together, as Dart and Nora visit Shorelands. Horror meets horror in this bizarre, enigmatic tale, which reveals itself in onion-like layers. The Hellfire Club will be popular with Straub's fans as well as readers of horror. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/95.]-Stacie Browne Chandler, Newbury Coll. Lib., Brookline, Mass.
Joanne Wilkinson
Nora Chancel has begun to lose all sense of herself. Wracked by nightmares from her stint as a combat nurse in Vietnam and unhappily married to the weak-willed scion of a famous publishing company, she is also rattled by the fact that four women from her hometown have recently been murdered. Called down to the police station to help with the investigation into the disappearance of a friend, she is kidnapped at gunpoint by suspected murderer Dick Dart. Over the course of the next 10 days, Nora courageously faces down her brutal, talkative kidnapper, emerging with a newfound appreciation for her own abilities. This is one odd page-turner of a book. All of Straub's characters are deeply neurotic, and his scenes veer erratically from the brutality of rape and murder to witty repartee that could come straight out of the "Thin Man" movies (although the fact that this banter is being tossed back and forth between a vicious serial killer and his intended victim adds a whole other level of weirdness to the proceedings). But Straub, whose background as a horror novelist is readily apparent, can write circles around most of the authors topping best-seller lists these days. Although his worldview is pretty strange, he also makes it pretty interesting.
A Guran
Don't let all those other reviewers fool you. They've said Peter Straub is wandering further away from horror. That with The Hellfire Club Straub is examining the fabric of American society in a literate, but entertaining manner. That it's a "richly nuanced thriller," "a suspense thriller," an "intellectual-puzzle mystery with a powerful vein of psycho-thriller suspense."

True, The Hellfire Club IS all that -- but it's also a slam-bang contemporary Gothic novel that fits my definition of "cutting-edge" horror as well. Straub not only twists Gothic into something new, he abandons the supernatural while chilling us with a modern monster and a vivid view of the festering corruption of present day American society. He even takes a few witty jabs at novelists and their craft, the publishing industry, editors, fantasy that attracts cult followings, women's undergarments, lawyers, doctors, and more.

Am I blowing the lid on some conspiracy of silence, or am I the only one who sees that Straub is one dangerously insidious writer? In The Hellfire Club, Straub gleefully strips away the genteel facade of the comfortable Republican world of reactionary politics and morality that he used to great (and opposite) effect in the supernatural Ghost Story (1979). The Chowder Society of Ghost Story here becomes The Hellfire Club -- full of corrupting perversion and the evil greed of capitalist misogynist power-mongering fascists.

In addition to exposing the nasty side of American society, he's got the publishing world believing he is an erudite (quite true) mainstream novelist who is escaping that nasty "h" word marketing niche. Ha! This is horror, baby. Radical horror that confronts us with the fact that the real world is scarier than any supernatural one and that the nastiest monsters are human ones.

It's all well written and nicely wrapped in a huge and entertaining Gothic package. Nora Chancel is our endangered heroine. Her husband, Davey, is the heir to a publishing house founded and sustained by the fantasy quest novel Night Journey by Hugo Driver. Nora is struggling with her marriage, her relationship to Davey's family, the Chancels, and nightmares (left over from her stint as a field nurse in Vietnam) that have returned, triggered by the shock of a series of local murders.

The Chancels are a family with secrets. Secrets concerning the "family treasure," Night Journey; secret corruption; secrets involving the reclusive and neurotic Daisy -- wife to Alden and adoptive mother to Davey -- and her fiction; secrets about babies.

Straub takes his time setting the scene, but the novel kicks into high gear when Nora, implicated in a crime, is kidnapped from the police station by lawyer and serial killer Dick Dart. Dart is a psychotic monster who rapes, steals, cheats and lies with glee -- the perfect symbol of American society and a true heir to the corrupting, immoral greed of the House of Chancel. ("Bid'ness is bid'ness," as he tells us.) Dart is as wickedly brutal as they come, but he's also brilliant, witty and not without cynical charm. He even has a redeeming quality -- his fashion sense. Even though his makeover of the dowdy Nora is, in a way, another form of degradation ("I bust you out of jail, I buy you clothes, I'm going to give you the best haircut you ever had in your life, after that I'm going to do what your mother should have done and teach you about makeup, and you lie to me?...don't do that again unless you want to hold your guts in your hands.") it is a step in Nora's personal liberation.

Multiple plots are woven together as, on the road with the natural born killer, Nora is compelled by Dart's activities to delve into the secrets of the Chancel family. The key seems to lie in discovering what really happened the summer of 1938 at a literary gathering attended by Chancel House founder Lincoln Chancel and his source of future wealth, Hugo Driver. Mysteries are revealed and puzzles solved until (indulging in that old-fashioned standard of a Gothic novel, a thunderstorm that has disconnected phones and electricity) the final drama is played out.

But there's more than rip-roaring entertainment in The Hellfire Club. Just as there are many layers of mystery to solve there are multiple levels of truth to deal with. In fact, The Hellfire Club works on so many levels, it's sure to provide readers with more than they expect. Straub, a writer who has constantly challenged himself over the years, delights us this time with a sly switchblade hidden up the benign tweed sleeve of his traditional mainstream jacket.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.25(w) x 7.00(h) x 1.25(d)

What People are Saying About This

Stephen King
Far and away the best book Peter Straub has ever done....The Hellfire Club moves like an express train.
From the Publisher
The Hellfire Club moves like an express train.”

The New York Times

The Washington Post

San Francisco Chronicle

Meet the Author

Peter Straub is the author of thirteen novels, and his books have been translated into twenty-one foreign languages. He is the recipient of the British Fantasy Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and two World Fantasy awards. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he resided in Ireland and England for a decade, and now lives in New York City.

Brief Biography

New York City
Date of Birth:
March 2, 1943
Place of Birth:
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
B.A. in English, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1965; M.A., Columbia University, 1966

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The Hellfire Club 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
MaGicAllyGeNuisJ More than 1 year ago
The Hellfire Club is about a man name Davey Chancel,and his multi-generational family that owns a publishing business. Which is Chancel House, it is being kept afloat by its ownership of the copyright of author Hugo Driver's Night Journey. Night Journey is one of those books that people obsess over,and name their selves after the characters of the book. The history of this book is a major plot point and is so well-described, and well written. But on the other hand,this book was not of Peter Straub's best book to me. It had a lot of detail, which I like. But the biggest draw back to me of the whole book. Was how lengthy it was, and how when you got to chapter 70. You were kinda just warn out of the whole plot. I enjoy the originality,characters, and plot. So I give it 4 and 1/2 stars!!!!
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OC-Tap4Fun More than 1 year ago
I wasn't sure what I was getting into but I do enjoy thrillers and this one was a mystery embedded in a thriller. It grabbed my attention quickly with the characters. If you dont like perverse bad characters, don't read it; Dick Dart is definitely perverse but also a very funny character.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
On one level the book is about dishonesty among publishers, authors, editors and lawyers. It is also about strong-willed fathers whose destructive acts affect succeeding generations. There are many different strands to the book, even one dealing with ultra-secret societies at Yale. Peter Straub is able to weave these pieces together with extraordinary skill and the result is a story which is riveting.
Bookmaggot More than 1 year ago
I am a Stephen King fan, and took his "recommendation" very seriously. I have also read all John Saul's works; I'm always entertained and intrigued. Peter Straub has (so-far) proved a disappointment, in his Hellfire Club. I am on page 136; that accomplishment has been a challenge! I am not engaged in the plot and I cannot identify with the inciped characters. I am hoping it picks up the pace. I have been told it will be rich in detail and complex in execution. So far I am very disappointed. I will be adding further comments, if redemption of the author is warrented!