From the Publisher
"[A] WHOPPER OF A NIGHTMARE TALE . . . DAZZLING . . . DIZZYING TWISTS."
"[A] TALE OF EVIL THAT IS BOTH EXTREME AND ENTERTAINING."
"GRIPPING AND FAST-PACED . . . A slick thriller in which deftly drawn characters must face the demons in their own lives to conquer that which claims the family's souls."
The 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.
Best-selling Gothic Suspense-meister John Saul is back with a gory tale of evil that is both extreme and entertaining. The book's prologue hits hard: A woman suffocates her newborn baby, believing it to be a creature of evil, while her husband hangs himself from a tree.
Jump-cut to the Conway family: alcoholic husband Ted, fed-up mom Janet, and their three children. Dad has just inherited an old mansion in Louisiana from his crazy aunt, who we have met in the prologue. The aunt's will required Ted to send his children to parochial school, and to help pay for the expense, he decides to fix up the mansion and turn it into a hotel.
Faster than you say "The Shining," very weird things start happening in the old house, and the children are in mortal danger. The story's resolution comes on Halloween weekend, which is indicative of how many cliches the author indulges in. Still, he moves them along at a brisk clip and while he does nothing new with the haunted house theme, the idea itself still holds a bit of punch.
William D. Gagliani
When a drunk Ted Conway is fired from his last-chance hotel job, his ever-patient wife Janet finally decides it may be time to take their three children and leave him. Ted has spiraled to a point where even his perfect teenage twins, Jared and Kim, can't stand him.
But then Ted's Aunt Cora, who never much liked him, dies in the Shreveport sanitarium which had been her home for years and inexplicably leaves Ted the family mansion, along with its bloody history of murder and mysterious disappearances. Another chance? Jane allows Ted to convince her that he can stop drinking, and that the mansion can be converted into an inn. Unfortunately, the Conway name is despised in St. Albans, and the new Conways meet opposition right from the start, not least from an obsessed Catholic priest, and also from Jake Cumberland, last descendant of the voodoo-practicing Conway servants.
Suddenly Janet detects a change in Ted, who becomes the husband she's missed for years. But why has Jared picked up all of Ted's worst qualities? Why has Jared and Kim's "Twin Thing" suddenly been silenced? And what of Father MacNeill's secretive attempts to deny Ted the zoning variance he needs to remodel the crumbling mansion?
Set aside superficial comparision to Stephen King's class The Shining - It's Jared, the son, who appears to have succumbed to the mansion's supernatural influence. And the results are quite different.
John Saul may not break any new ground here, but he has fashioned a slick, competent thriller in which deftly drawn characters must face the demons in their own lives to conquer that which claims the family's souls. That the list of survivors remains unpredictable to the end is testament to Saul's experienced approach, which has resulted in almost two dozen novels, many of them bestsellers.
Not known as a stylist, Saul uses a straightforward, uncluttered voice to good effect. Told with narrative verve from a sliding point of view, and with a penchant for realistic teenage dialogue, The Right Hand of Evil is gripping and fast-paced.
This is a good read, with just enough mind-numbing action to keep the reader glued to his seat.....[S]ide characters...keep the interest high, but the most fascinating character is that of the father, who has a dramatic change....If you like John Saul's style of writing and want fast-paced action with remarkable characters, you will like The Right Hand of Evil.
The Mystery Reader Online
The Conways inherit a long-abandoned house and a trust with enough money to allow them to restore the place to a habitable condition. This family of five has its problems--Ted's an alcoholic and Janet's a struggling artist--and they jump at the chance to own their own home. The three children are doing fine until they move into this house, which seems to have a life of its own--a life that includes voodoo, suicide, strange disappearances, and rumors of murder. Bill Weideman's reading is expressive, and his words are clearly enunciated. This easy-to-follow story will be in demand from horror and Dean Koontz fans. Recommended for public libraries.--Laurie Selwyn, Bells, TX Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Saul's twentysomethingth horror novel begins with vacuous overwriting that improves only slightly as he settles into a banality far less fresh than his better stuff (The Presence, 1997; Shadows,/i>,1992, etc.). In the prologue, a woman fearing that she's given birth to a creature of pure evil suffocates her newborn, while her husband eviscerates and hangs himself from a nearby tree. Next we meet Janet Conway, her three children (Jared, Kimberly, and baby Molly), and her alcoholic husband Ted, from whom she wants to split. But Ted, an assistant hotel manager just fired for drinking, has inherited a hulking old Victorian house in St. Albans, Louisiana, from his Aunt Cora, the crazy woman in the prologue. When the Conways go to St. Albans to look at the house, they find that a clause in the inheritance insists that their children must attend parochial school or else Ted, a lapsed Catholic, can't claim ownership. Ted's decision is to turn the hulk into a hotel, living in it during the transition and so it is that young Kimberly starts hearing her great-aunt's suffocated baby wailing through the night. Déjà vu? Stephen King's The Shining, anyone? As the house is gradually repaired room by room, the town seeks to withhold permits for Ted's hotel because rumors abound of Satanism and devil worship taking place inside it. Meantime, when Kim's new friend Sandy sleeps over, she too begins to be drawn into the weird haze (as well as voices) that has swamped the house. Menaces seen and unseen float everywhere; reptilian demons arise; and Kim finds herself lost in a pagan cathedral. Are these events only her nightmares? On Halloween does Jared actuallyeviscerate their dog Scout? When Janet opens a door to find an abyss, is it real? Willing suspension of disbelief is one thing, but asking a reader to go along with immeasurably overfamiliar storytelling effects is another.
Read an Excerpt
It was still alive.
She could feel it inside her. It was moving again, twisting and writhing in her belly.
She'd hoped it would die.
Hoped. And prayed. Since the moment she first felt it inside her, she'd fallen to her knees, begging God to deliver her from the evil within herdesperate prayers that continued through long days and longer nights. Sleep never came, for she dared not ever let down her guard, not ever relax her vigilance against the evil even for a few seconds of blessed release from the terror. Lying awake on dank sheets, listening to the whine of insects beyond the window, how many times had she gotten up from her bed in the meanest hours to stand at the window, gazing out into the black abyss, wondering if she shouldn't open the screen and let the predators in?
Once, she slashed through the mesh with ragged nails, ripping the screen to shreds, tearing open her nightgown as if to a lover, presenting her tortured body to the horde of tiny creatures that spewed forth from the night to settle on her skin in a thick and pulsating scum: clinging to her with piercing barbs; miring in the oily sweat that oozed from her; pricking with stinging needles. Producing a thrill of pain as she willed them to suck out her blood, and along with it, the evil that pervaded her every pore.
But the vileness within her had prevailed, as even against her own will she swept the insects away, slammed the window shut, and stood beneath a scalding shower for hours in a vain attempt to cleanse herself of the poisons.
She had returned to the bed, cursing herself and the man who lay beside her, but most of all cursing the disease that ruled her.
Truly, that was what it was: an illness cast upon her in retribution for sins so vile that she had repressed even their faintest memory, leaving only the corruption inside, the monstrous horror that was metastasizing through her, consuming a little more of her every day.
"Dear God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"
The wordsthe cry of anguish that should have shattered the very airdribbled from her lips like the mewling of a baby, a pitiful, weak sound, but enough to drive the life within her wild. It sent her screaming and stumbling from the house, where her balance deserted her and she dropped to her knees, skinning them on the harsh paving of the driveway. Moaning, she sprawled out, and for the tiniest moment of ecstasy thought she might be dying. Then the fury within her eased, and after a while her ragged panting mellowed into a rhythmic breath. Deliverance was not yet at hand. She struggled back to her feet and stood staring at the house.
She had thought it beautiful once, with its high-peaked roof and many gables, the broad veranda that wrapped around it with the fullness of a petticoated skirt, the shutters and gingerbread that decorated its face like the millinery of an age gone by. Now, though, she saw the fancywork for what it was: a veil that only barely covered the wickedness that lay within; a mask peeling back to reveal the slatternly face of a whore.
A whore like me.
The words rose unbidden from the depths of her subconscious, in a choking sob.
The evil within her tested its strength, and the woman's body convulsed. She staggered forward, driven by pain. At the foot of the steps leading to the verandaand the cavernous rooms beyondshe stopped.
The certain knowledge that something was different, had changed in the seconds since she'd fled outside, made her turn away.
It's behind the house. As if under the power of an unseen force, the woman slowly groped her way around to the back of the house. The sun, close to its zenith now, beat down on her, making her skin tingle and burn in an angry, itching rash that spread scarlet from her belly across her torso, down her arms and legs, like claws scraping at her from the inside, pushing to tear free from the confines of her body.
Then she saw it.
Her hands rose reflexively to her face as if to blot out the vision before her, or even to tear her eyes from her head. Then they dropped away, and she gazed unblinking at the specter beneath the ancient magnolia tree that spread its limbs over the area beyond the house.
It was the man.
The man she had married.
The man who had brought her to this house.
The man who had delivered the disease upon her.
The man who had lain unconscious beside her as she'd prayed for a salvation she knew would never come.
Now he was gone, his body, stripped naked of even the tiniest shred of clothing, hung from the lowest branch of the tree, a thick hempen rope knotted tightly around his neck.
His head hung at an unnatural angle, and his lifeless eyes were fixed upon her with a gaze that chilled the remnants of her soul.
The knife with which he'd slit open his own belly was still clutched in the stiffened fingers of his right hand, and his entrails lay in a bloody tangle below his dangling feet.
A swarm of flies had already settled on his disemboweled corpse; soon their eggs would hatch, releasing millions of maggots to feast upon him.
He had found his escape.
He had left her alone.
Alone with the disease.
Nearly doubled over by a spasm of terror and revulsion, the woman turned away and lurched toward the shelter of the house.
Muttered words, unintelligible even to herself, tumbled from her lips. By the time she escaped the brilliant noon sun, her entire body was trembling.
Got to hide.
Hide from him.
Hide from it.
The corruption inside leaped to life again and, no longer aware of where she was or what she was doing, she obeyed the dictates of the foulness within.
A door opened before her, and she stumbled, then fell, plunging into the shadowy darkness, feeling blackness surround her, welcoming the release of death.
Her body slammed against the coldness of the cellar floor. She lay still. Against her will, her heart once more began to beat, her lungs to breathe.
And now the final agonythe agony she had always known would come.
It arrived as a point of white heat deep within, which spread and burned as it raced through her, igniting every nerve in her body into a fiery torment that sent a scream boiling up from her throat, instantly followed by a stream of vomit.
Every muscle in her body cramped. Limbs thrashing, hands and feet lashing out as if at some unseen tormentor, she was engulfed by the growing pain.
"NOOOooo ..." The single cry of anguish burst from her, then trailed off into hopeless silence.
For a long time she lay unmoving, as the fire withdrew, leaving at last an absence of pain. A blank emptiness where the disease had been.
She pulled herself up and gazed at the tiny thing that lay between her legs.
Still covered with bloody tissue, the baby stretched its tiny arms, as if reaching toward her.
The woman stared at it, then reached out and picked it up.
She cradled it in her left arm, and with the fingers of her right hand she stroked its face.
Then, her eyes still fixed upon the infant, her fingers closed around its neck.
She began to squeeze.
As her fingers tightened, she heard herself say the familiar words that lifted her spirit and filled her soul with peace. "Our Father, who art in Heaven ..."
The baby thrashed against her grasp, its fingers instinctively pulling at her own.
"...Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us ..."
The baby's tiny fingers fell away from hers; its struggles weakened. "... Deliver us from evil."
The movements stopped. The infant lay still in her hands.
They found her just after sunset.
She was still praying, but of the baby, there was no trace to be found. Indeed, it was as if the infant had never existed at all.
She offered no resistance when they lifted her to her feet, none as they led her from the house and put her in the ambulance.
As the ambulance drove away, she did not look back.
Her face was serene; she hummed softly to herself.
Deliverance, finally, was hers.