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.
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."
Read an Excerpt
She felt her face redden with embarrassment. You should be used to it by now, she told herself. After all these years, you should expect it. Unwilling to meet the clerk's eyes, she scanned the meager pile of supplies she'd put into her shopping basket: five tubes of paint, three of them shades of blue. She really needed only the cobalt. And she could do without two of the brushes, but the other one was absolutely necessary.
More necessary than food for tonight?
Her flush deepened, her humiliation turning into anger. Her gaze shifted from the artists' supplies on the counter to the young man--no more than two or three years older than her twins--who looked even more embarrassed than she felt. "It's not your fault," she assured him. And it's not mine, either, she could have added, but didn't. "We don't air our dirty laundry in public," her mother's voice--stilled by cancer five years ago--echoed in her mind. "I'm sure it's just a mix-up," she told the clerk, forcing a smile that she hoped might cover her true emotions, and imagining her mother's nod of approval. "I'll pick these things up this afternoon." As she strode from the shop and out into the sweltering Louisiana morning, she felt the clerk's gaze following her, and knew the young man didn't believe she'd be back any more than she did.
Maybe some afternoon next week, but certainly not this one.
She listened to the engine crank on her old Toyota, praying it would catch since there was no more chance her Visa card would be accepted at the garage than at the art supply store. Finally, she released the breath she hadn't realized she was holding as the motor sputtered into reluctant life.
Thoughthe market was her next stop, and she knew the kids would be expecting her, she turned the car in the opposite direction, deciding it was more important to deal with the credit card issue right now than to put it off until Ted came home from work. If he came home, she thought, which was, as always, an everyday question in her life.
The Majestic Hotel might have been the pride of Shreveport--as its marquee proudly proclaimed--once upon a time, but once upon a time had been a long time ago. Parking in front of the ugly brick building in defiance of a GUESTS ONLY sign, Janet hesitated in front of the building, taking a last deep breath of fresh air against the stale cigarette odor she knew she would find inside, then pushing open the dirt-filmed glass door into the lobby. What next? she wondered as she stepped over a large tear in the threadbare carpeting. At least the last hotel in which Ted worked had managed to keep its lobby looking decent. Where would he wind up after this?
She didn't even want to think about it.
As she started toward the assistant manager's office, the desk clerk gave her a brief nod. "He ain't in his office, Miz Conway." He cocked his head toward the bar. "He's on break." Her anger, which had settled to a low smolder, flared up again. The desk clerk's lips twisted into a knowing smirk. "Been on break for about an hour now."
Once again Janet heard her mother's remembered voice in her head: "Don't kill the messenger just because you don't like the message!" She nodded a barely perceptible thanks to the clerk as she veered off toward the bar and a moment later stepped into its smoky interior. Half a dozen early drinkers littered the length of the bar. A bleached blonde of about forty, encased in a dress two sizes too small for her ample body, peered blearily at Janet just long enough to satisfy herself that she still had no competition in the room, then returned to her seduction of the shabbily dressed men sitting next to her. Apparently, she thought, the Majestic couldn't even attract a decent class of hooker anymore.
Spotting her husband on the second stool from the end of the bar, Janet brushed by the aging prostitute and took a stance in front of Ted with her arms crossed.
"It happened again," she said, lowering her voice so the bartender couldn't hear her. She could tell by Ted's expression that he knew exactly what she was talking about. To his credit, he at least didn't try to deny it.
"I ran short of cash," he told her. His eyes met hers, and, as always, the look of contrition on his face--the genuine sorrow in his chestnut eyes--chipped away at her anger. "All I put on it was a hundred."
"But it was a hundred more than we could afford," Janet objected, her voice rising more than she'd intended.
Tony, who was lazily rinsing glasses in the sink behind his bar, glanced their way. "And it's a hundred less than Ted owes."
Janet bit her lip, and Ted winced visibly.
"Look, honey, I'm really sorry. But you know how it is--"
"No, I don't know how it is," Janet interrupted, her anger flooding back in the face of his automatic expectation that no matter how bad things got, she would always understand. "I don't know why you keep on drinking up your paycheck every week when we barely have enough money to pay the rent and eat, let alone keep the car running and keep me in art supplies." She regretted the last words the moment they came out, for the look in Ted's eyes told her she'd offered him an escape.
"If you earned enough with your paintings, maybe I wouldn't have to pay for the supplies--" he began, but she didn't let him finish.
"The last three canvases I sold paid off the credit cards and bought the kids their Christmas presents. And if I have to, I can borrow some money from Keith at the gallery, since he's sure he won't have any trouble selling the two I'm working on." She hesitated, even tried to hold the next words back, but her anger won out. "And if I have to borrow money from Keith, you'd better believe I'm going to tell him why I need it. I'm not
going to make up any stories to cover for you." Her voice was rising, and suddenly everyone at the bar was looking at her. She could hear her mother clucking with disapproval, but she ignored the warning. "Is that what you want, Ted? Do you want me to start telling everyone why the credit cards are maxed out and the checks are starting to bounce again?" She glanced around the seedy bar and shook her head in disgust. "Even the manager of this place won't want you working for him anymore."
The look of sorrow was back in his eyes. "I'll stop," he promised. "I swear to God, hon, I won't have another drink until every bill we have is paid off." He fumbled in his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and handed her all the cash he had. "Take it," he said. "Take it all. Maybe it'll be enough for whatever you need."
Janet gazed at him for a long time. Even in the dim light of the bar, she could see the pain in his expression. Beneath the erosion alcohol had carved on his features, the remains of the boyish looks that had first attracted her to him were still visible. She reached out as if to take the money, but her hand fell back to her side and she shook her head. "It's not the money, Ted," she said, her anger finally draining away. "It's you. I don't want your money. I want you." Turning away from her husband, Janet fled the dim bar, emerging into the light and heat of the morning.
At least I didn't cry, she told herself as she got back in the Toyota. At least I didn't let any of them see me cry.
But as she drove away, the tears she'd managed to control in the bar finally overcame her, running freely down her face.
Ted Conway watched his wife hurry out of the bar, then pushed his empty glass away, stood, and shoved his wallet back in his pocket. But before he could start back to his office, his eye fell on the empty glass.
He looked at it for a long time, knowing he should leave it where it was and go back to work. Instead he sat back down on the stool and nudged the empty glass toward Tony. "I guess one more won't hurt, will it?"