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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Bestselling horror fiction has taken an interesting turn over the last couple of years. While Stephen King has been experimenting with the genre for some time now (Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne don't exactly fit the typical horror mold), every other major horror author clearly decided the time was right to flex his creative muscle. Dean Koontz has found a long life comfortably atop the bestseller lists with his mainstream terrors, Fear Nothing and Seize the Night; Anne Rice mixed the gothic with autobiography in Violin; the V. C. Andrews franchise found new life in the serial novel format King reinvented with The Green Mile; and somewhere Robert McCammon has a new historical epic that may or may not ever see the light of day.
So it's perfectly reasonable that John Saul, author of 22 popular chillers, decided to lighten up on the body count in order to focus more on a traditional haunted-house story for his new novel, The Right Hand of Evil. And fortunately, he pulls it off effortlessly.
Saul has always been most comfortable when pointing his horror toward the familial unit; here, however, the family begins the tale on the very edge of destruction. Janet Conway is a struggling artist who has to worry about not only three kids but also Ted, her alcoholic husband, who doesn't just fall off the wagon — he practically throws himself under its wheels. The kids — teenage twins Jared and Kimberley, and moppet Molly — would actually love nothing more than for Mom to leave the bum and take them with her. Before thatcanhappen, however, Ted's crazy Aunt Cora decides to die, leaving Ted a huge home in the sleepy town (is there ever any other kind in a Saul novel?) of St. Albans, Louisiana.
At first the inheritance of the house seems to actually whip Ted into shape. He's suddenly inspired to turn it into a little hotel — a decision that is met with fierce resistance by the rest of the town's residents, who soon let the Conways know that Ted's ancestors have a history tied to voodoo, infanticide, racism, infidelity, and murder (even cruelty toward animals gets its turn). This is enough to drive Ted back to the bottle. But during one particularly bad drinking spell, a nasty accident leaves him in a vulnerable position — one in which the Conway men unknowingly join hands with evil in a supernatural battle against the Conway women.
Unlike many of Saul's previous novels, The Right Hand of Evil does not feature excessive violence. Instead Saul focuses on giving his readers a satisfyingly suspenseful haunted-house tale. He has painted a convincing portrait of a woman who feels she's trapped in a bad marriage; he also demonstrates the extent to which parents can rationalize their offspring's eccentric — and sometimes disturbing — behavior as "just part of being a teenager." The entire Conway clan's descent into madness makes for quite a page-turner.
At times The Right Hand of Evil brings to mind a mix of King's The Shining and Bag of Bones. And it won't exactly come as a shock to Saul readers that it's mostly men doing the dirty deeds, and mostly women who have to fight against it. Let's face it, strong women characters are a staple of Saul's works, and in Janet and especially the intelligent Kimberley, Right Hand's got a great duo.
With an addictive story of supernatural suspense and appealing central characters, The Right Hand of Evil is a perfect way to generate a chill up your spine in the summer heat.