Fans of The Historian won’t be able to put down this spellbinding literary horror story in which a Columbia professor must use his knowledge of demonic mythology to rescue his daughter from the Underworld.
A stolen child.
An ancient evil.
A father’s descent.
And the literary masterpiece that holds the key to his daughter’s salvation.
Professor David Ullman is among the world’s leading authorities on demonic literature, with special expertise in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Not that David is a believer—he sees what he teaches as a branch of the imagination and nothing more. So when the mysterious Thin Woman arrives at his office and invites him to travel to Venice and witness a “phenomenon,” he turns her down. She leaves plane tickets and an address on his desk, advising David that her employer is not often disappointed.
That evening, David’s wife announces she is leaving him. With his life suddenly in shambles, he impulsively whisks his beloved twelve-year-old daughter, Tess, off to Venice after all. The girl has recently been stricken by the same melancholy moods David knows so well, and he hopes to cheer her up and distract them both from the troubles at home.
But what happens in Venice will change everything.
First, in a tiny attic room at the address provided by the Thin Woman, David sees a man restrained in a chair, muttering, clearly insane . . . but could he truly be possessed? Then the man speaks clearly, in the voice of David’s dead father, repeating the last words he ever spoke to his son. Words that have left scars—and a mystery—behind.
When David rushes back to the hotel, he discovers Tess perched on the roof’s edge, high above the waters of the Grand Canal. Before she falls, she manages to utter a final plea: Find me.
What follows is an unimaginable journey for David Ullman from skeptic to true believer. In a terrifying quest guided by symbols and riddles from the pages of Paradise Lost, David must track the demon that has captured his daughter and discover its name. If he fails, he will lose Tess forever.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Andrew Pyper is the author of The Only Child, which was an instant national bestseller in Canada. He is also the author of six previous novels, including The Demonologist, which won the International Thriller Writers award for Best Hardcover Novel and was selected for The Globe and Mail’s Best 100 Books of 2013 and Amazon’s 20 Best Books of 2013. The Killing Circle was a New York Times Best Crime Novel of the Year. Four of Pyper’s novels, including The Damned, are in active development for feature film. He lives in Toronto. Visit AndrewPyper.com or @AndrewPyper.
Read an Excerpt
THE ROWS OF FACES. YOUNGER AND YOUNGER EACH TERM. OF course, this is only me getting older among the freshmen who come and go, an illusion, like looking out the rear window of a car and seeing the landscape run away from you instead of you running from it.
I’ve been delivering this lecture long enough to play around with thoughts like these while speaking aloud to two hundred students at the same time. It’s time to sum things up. One last attempt to sell at least a few of the laptop ticklers before me on the magnificence of a poem I have more or less devoted my working life to.
“And here we come to the end,” I tell them, and pause. Wait for the fingers to lift from the keyboards. Take a full breath of the lecture hall’s undercirculated air and feel, as I always do, the devastating sadness that comes at reciting the poem’s closing lines.
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They hand in hand with wand’ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.
With these words I feel my daughter next to me. Since she was born—and even before that, as the mere idea of the child I wished to one day have—it is Tess whom I invariably imagine walking out of the garden with, hand in hand.
“Loneliness,” I go on. “That is what this entire work really comes down to. Not good versus evil, not a campaign to ‘justify the ways of God to men.’ It is the most convincing case we have—more convincing than any in the Bible itself—that hell is real. Not as a fiery pit, not a place above or below but in us, a place in the mind. To know ourselves and, in turn, to endure the perpetual reminder of our solitude. To be cast out. To wander alone. What is the real fruit of original sin? Selfhood! That is where our poor newlyweds are left, together but in the solitude of self-consciousness. Where can they wander now? ‘Anywhere!’ the serpent says. ‘The whole world is theirs!’ And yet they are condemned to choose their own ‘solitary way.’ It is a fearful, even terrifying, journey. But it is one all of us must face, as much now as then.”
Here I take another, even longer, pause. Long enough that there is a risk I will be taken as being finished, and someone might stand, or slap her laptop shut, or bark out a cough. But they never do.
“Ask yourselves,” I say, tightening my hold on Tess’s imagined hand. “Where will you go now that Eden has been left behind?”
An arm almost instantly shoots up. A kid near the back I’ve never called on, never even noticed, before now.
“Is that question going to be on the exam?”
MY NAME IS DAVID ULLMAN. I TEACH IN THE ENGLISH DEPARTMENT at Columbia University in Manhattan, a specialist in mythology and Judeo-Christian religious narrative, though my meal ticket, the text upon which my critical study has justified my tenure in the Ivy League and invitations to various academic boondoggles around the world, has been Milton’s Paradise Lost. Fallen angels, the temptations by the serpent, Adam and Eve and original sin. A seventeenth-century epic poem that retells biblical events but with a crafty slant, a perspective that arguably lends sympathy to Satan, the leader of the rebel angels who became fed up with a grumpy, authoritarian God and broke out on his own in a career of making trouble in the lives of humans.
It’s been a funny (the devout might even say hypocritical) way to make a living: I have spent my life teaching about things I don’t believe in. An atheist biblical scholar. A demon expert who believes evil to be a manmade invention. I have written essays about miracles—healed lepers, water into wine, exorcisms—but have never seen a magician’s trick I couldn’t figure out. My justification for these apparent contradictions is that there are some things that bear meaning, culturally speaking, without actually existing. The Devil, angels. Heaven. Hell. They are part of our lives even if we never have and never will see them, touch them, prove them to be real. Things that go bump in the brain.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.
That is John Milton, speaking through Satan, his most brilliant fiction. And I happen to believe the old fellow—both old fellows—have got it right.
THE AIR OF COLUMBIA’S MORNINGSIDE CAMPUS IS DAMP WITH EXAM stress and the only-partial cleansing of a New York rain. I’ve just finished delivering my final lecture of the spring term, an occasion that always brings a bittersweet relief, the knowledge that another year is done (the class prep and office hours and evaluations almost finished) but also that another year has passed (and with it, another distressing click on the personal odometer). Nevertheless, unlike many of the coddled grumblers who surround me at faculty functions and fuss over pointless points-of-order at departmental committee meetings, I still like teaching, still like the students who are encountering grown-up literature for the first time. Yes, most of them are only here as pre–Something That Will Make Serious Money—pre-med, pre-law, pre–marrying rich—but most of them are not yet wholly beyond reach. If not my reach, then poetry’s.
It’s just past three. Time to walk across the tiled quad to my office in Philosophy Hall, drop off the clutch of late term papers guiltily piled on my desk at the front of the lecture hall, then head downtown to Grand Central to meet Elaine O’Brien for our annual end-of-term drink at the Oyster Bar.
Though Elaine teaches in the Psychology Department, I’m closer to her than anyone in English. Indeed, I’m closer to her than anyone I know in New York. She is the same age as me—a trim, squash court and half-marathoned forty-three—though a widow, her husband claimed by an out-of-nowhere stroke four years ago, the same year I arrived at Columbia. I liked her at once. Possessed of what I have come to think of as a serious sense of humor: She tells few jokes, but observes the world’s absurdities with a wit that is somehow hopeful and withering at the same time. A quietly beautiful woman too, I would say, though I am a married man—as of today, at any rate—and acknowledging this kind of admiration for a female colleague and occasional drinking buddy may be, as the University Code of Conduct likes to designate virtually all human interaction, “inappropriate.”
Yet there has been nothing remotely inappropriate between O’Brien and me. Not a single stolen kiss before she boards her train on the New Haven line, not one flirty speculation over what might happen if we were to scuttle up to a room at some Midtown hotel and see what we’d be like, just once, in the sack. It’s not repression that prevents us—I don’t think it is, anyway—and it’s not entirely our mutual honoring of my marital vows (given that we both know my wife threw hers out the window for that smug prick in Physics, the smirky string theorist, Will Junger, a year ago). I believe O’Brien and I (she is “Elaine” only after a third martini) haven’t nudged things in that direction because we fear it might befoul what we already have. And what do we have? A profound if sexless intimacy of a kind I’ve never known with either man or woman since childhood, and perhaps not even then.
Still, I suppose O’Brien and I have been carrying on an affair of sorts for the better part of the time we’ve been friends. When we get together, we talk about things I haven’t talked about with Diane for some time. For O’Brien, it is the dilemma of her future: fearing the prospect of single old age while recognizing she’s become used to being on her own, indulgent of her habits. A woman “increasingly unmarryable,” as she puts it.
For me, it is the dark cloud of depression. Or, I should say, what I reluctantly feel obliged to call depression, just as half the world has diagnosed itself, though it doesn’t seem to precisely fit my case. All my life I have been pursued by the black dogs of unaccountable gloom, despite the good luck of my career, the initially promising marriage, and the greatest fortune of all, my only child: a bright and tender-hearted daughter, who was born following a pregnancy all the doctors said would never come to term, the only miracle I am prepared to concede as real. After Tess arrived, the black dogs went away for a little while. But as she graduated from toddlerhood to chattering school age, they returned, hungrier than before. Even my love for Tess, even her whispered bedtime wishes of Daddy, don’t be sad could not hold them at bay.
There has always been a sense that there’s something not quite right with me. Nothing you’d notice on the outside—I’m nothing if not “polished,” as Diane described me with pride when we first started dating, and now uses the same term in a tone that bears scathing connotations. Even on the inside I am honestly free of self-pity or frustrated ambition, an atypical state for a tenure-track academic. No, my shadows issue from a more elusive source than the textbooks would have it. And as for my symptoms, I can tick few if any checkmarks beside the list of warning signs on the mental health public service announcements plastered above the doors of subway cars. Irritability or aggression? Only when I watch the news. Lost appetite? Nope. I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to lose ten pounds since I left college. Trouble concentrating? I read Dead White Guy poems and undergrad papers for a living—concentration is my business.
My malady is more an indefinable presence than pleasure-draining absence. The sense that I have an unseen companion following me through my days, waiting to seize an opportunity, to find a closer relationship than the one it already enjoys. In childhood, I vainly tried to ascribe a personality to it, treat it as an “imaginary friend” of the kind I’d heard other children sometimes conjured. But my follower only followed—it did not play or protect or console. Its sole interest lay—and still lies—in providing dark company, malicious in its silence.
Professorial semantics, maybe, but it feels more like melancholy to me than anything as clinical as the chemical imbalances of depression. What Robert Burton called in his Anatomy of Melancholy (published four hundred years ago, back when Milton was first sketching his Satan) a “vexation of spirit.” It’s as though my very life has been haunted.
O’Brien has almost given up suggesting I should see a shrink. She’s grown too used to my reply: “Why should I when I have you?”
I’m allowing myself a smile at this when it is instantly wiped away by the sight of Will Junger coming down the Low Library’s stone steps. Waving my way as though we are friends. As though his fucking my wife for the last ten months is a fact that has momentarily escaped his mind.
“David! A word?”
What does this man look like? Something sly and surprisingly carnivorous. Something with claws.
“Another year,” he says once he stands in front of me, stagily breathless.
He squints at me, shows his teeth. It’s expressions like these, I suppose, that counted as “charming” in his first post–yoga class coffees with Diane. This was the word she used when I asked the always first, always useless, question of the cuckold: Why him? She shrugged, as though she didn’t require a reason, and was surprised that I might. “He’s charming,” she said finally, landing on the word as a butterfly decides which flower to rest on.
“Listen, I don’t want this to be difficult,” Will begins. “I’m just sorry for the way things have turned out.”
“And how is that?”
“How have things turned out?”
He rolls out his lower lip in a gesture of hurt. String theory. That’s what he teaches, what he talks to Diane about, presumably, after he’s rolled off her. How all matter, if you peel it down to the essentials, is bound by impossibly tiny strings. I don’t know about matter, but I could believe that this is all Will Junger is made of. Invisible strands that lift his eyebrows and the corners of his mouth, an expertly rendered puppet.
“I’m just trying to be a grown-up here,” he says.
“You have any kids, Will?”
“Of course you don’t. And you never will, you selfish child,” I say, heaving myself full of damp air. “Trying to be a grown-up here? Fuck you. You think this is a scene in some indie drama you take my wife to in the Village, some pack of lies the guy at the Times said was so naturalistically performed. But in real life? We’re bad actors. We’re slobs who actually hurt. You don’t feel it, you couldn’t, but the pain you’re causing us—causing my family—it’s destroying our lives, what we have together. What we had.”
“Listen, David. I—”
“I have a daughter,” I go on, steamrolling him. “A little girl who knows something is wrong, and she’s slipping into this dark place I don’t know how to pull her out of. Do you know what it is to watch your child, your everything, come apart? Of course you don’t. You’re empty. A summa cum laude sociopath who talks about literally nothing for a living. Invisible strings! You’re a nothing specialist. A walking, talking vacancy.”
I didn’t expect to say all this, but I’m glad I have. Later, I’ll wish I could hop in a time machine and return to this moment to deliver a better-crafted insult. But for now, it feels pretty good.
“It’s funny you say that about me,” he says.
“Ironic. Perhaps that’s the better term.”
“Ironic is never the better term.”
“This was Diane’s idea, by the way. That we talk.”
“You’re lying. She knows what I think of you.”
“But do you know what she thinks of you?”
The puppet strings are lifted. Will Junger smiles an unexpected smile of triumph.
“ ‘You’re not here,’ ” he says. “That’s what she says. ‘David? How would I know how David feels? He’s not here.’ ”
There’s no reply to this. Because it’s true. That’s been the death sentence of our marriage, and I have been powerless to correct the fault. It’s not workaholism, not the distractions of a lover or obsessive hobby, not the distance to which men tend to retreat as they drag their feet into middle age. Part of me—the part Diane needs—simply isn’t here anymore. Lately I can be in the same room, the same bed, and she reaches for me, but it is like trying to grasp the moon. What I’d like to know, what I’d pray to be told if I thought praying might work, is where the missing piece is. What did I leave behind? What did I never have to start with? What name is to be given the parasite that has fed on me without me noticing?
The sun comes out and all at once the city is bathed in steam, the library steps glinting. Will Junger wrinkles his nose. He is a cat. I see that now, far too late. A black cat that’s crossed my path.
“Gonna be a hot one,” he says and starts away into the new light.
I HEAD PAST THE BRONZE OF RODIN’S The Thinker (“HE LOOKS LIKE he has a toothache,” Tess once rightly said of him) and into Philosophy Hall. My office is on the third floor, and I take the stairs clinging to the handrail, drained by the sudden heat.
When I reach my floor and make the corner I’m hit by a sensation of vertigo so intense I scramble to the wall and cling to the brick. I’ve had, now and then, panic attacks of the sort that leave you momentarily breathless, what my mother would call “dizzy spells.” But this is something else altogether. A distinct sensation of falling. Not from a height but into a borderless space. An abyss that swallows me, the building, the world in a single, merciless gulp.
Then it’s gone. Leaving me glad that nobody witnessed my spontaneous wall hugging.
Nobody but the woman sitting on the chair outside my office door.
Too old to be a student. Too well-dressed to be an academic. I put her in her mid-thirties at first, but as I approach, she seems older, her bones overly pronounced, the premature aging of the eating disordered. She looks to be starving, in fact. A brittleness her tailored suit and long, dyed black hair cannot hide.
Her accent is European, but generically so. It could be an American-flavored French, German, or Czech. An accent that hides one’s origins rather than reveals them.
“I’m not holding office hours today.”
“Of course. I read the card on your door.”
“Are you here about a student? Is your child in my class?”
I am used to this scene: the helicopter parent, having taken out a third mortgage to put her kid into a fancy college, making a plea on behalf of her B-student Great Hope. Yet even as I ask this woman if this is the case, I know it isn’t. She’s here for me.
“No, no,” she answers, pulling a stray strand of hair from her lips. “I am here to deliver an invitation.”
“My mailbox is downstairs. You can leave anything addressed to me with the porter.”
“A verbal invitation.”
She stands. Taller than I expected. And though she is as worryingly thin as she appeared while seated, there is no apparent weakness in her frame. She holds the balls of her shoulders wide, her sharp chin pointed at the ceiling.
“I have an appointment downtown,” I say, though I am already reaching for the handle to open the door. And she is already shuffling close to follow me in.
“Only a moment, professor,” she says. “I promise not to make you late.”
MY OFFICE IS NOT LARGE, AND THE STUFFED BOOKSHELVES AND stacked papers shrink the space even more. I’ve always felt this lends the room a coziness, a scholarly nest. This afternoon, however, even after I fall into the chair behind my desk and the Thin Woman sits on the antique bench where my students ask for extensions or beg for higher grades, it is suffocating. The air thin, as though we have been transported to a higher altitude.
The woman smoothes her skirt. Her fingers too long. The only jewelry she wears is a gold band on her thumb. So loosely fitting it spins whenever she moves her hand.
“An introduction would be customary at this point,” I say, surprised by the crisp aggression of my tone. It doesn’t come from a position of strength, I realize, but self-defense. A smaller animal puffing up to create the illusion of ferocity before a predator.
“My real name is information I cannot provide, unfortunately,” she says. “Of course I could offer something false—an alias—but lies of any sort make me uncomfortable. Even the harmless lies of social convenience.”
“This puts you at an advantage.”
“An advantage? But this isn’t a contest, professor. We are on the same side.”
“What side is that?”
She laughs at this. The sickly rattle of a barely controlled cough. Both hands flying up to cover her mouth.
“Your accent. I can’t quite place it,” I say when she has settled and the thumb ring has stopped spinning.
“I have lived in many places.”
“A wanderer. Perhaps that is the way to put it.”
“Wandering implies an absence of purpose.”
“Does it? But that cannot be. For it has brought me here.”
She slides herself forward so that she is perched on the bench’s edge, a movement of perhaps two or three inches. Yet it’s as though she has come to sit upon my desk, the space between us impolitely close. I can smell her now. A vaguely barnyard whiff of straw, of close-quartered livestock. There is a second when I feel like I may not be able to take another breath without some visible show of disgust. And then she begins. Her voice not wholly disguising the scent, but somehow quieting its intensity.
“I represent a client who demands discretion above all. And in this particular case, as you will no doubt appreciate, this requirement limits me to only relating the most necessary information to you.”
“A need-to-know basis.”
“Yes,” she says, and cocks her head, as though she’s never heard the phrase before. “Only what you need to know.”
“Which is what?”
“Your expertise is required to assist my client in understanding an ongoing case of primary interest. Which is why I am here. To invite you, as a consultant, to provide your professional insight, observations, whatever you may feel to be of relevance in clarifying our understanding of the—” She stops here, seeming to choose from a list of possible words in her mind, and finally settling on the best of an inadequate selection. “The phenomenon.”
“If you will forgive my generality.”
“It all sounds very mysterious.”
“Necessarily so. As I mentioned.”
She continues to look at me. As if I have come to her with questions. As if it is she who waits for me to move us forward. So I do.
“You refer to a ‘case.’ What does it involve, precisely?”
“Precisely? That is beyond what I am able to say.”
“Because it’s a secret? Or because you don’t understand it yourself?”
“The question is fair. But to answer it would be a betrayal of what I have been charged to disclose.”
“You’re not giving me much.”
“At the risk of overstepping my instructed limits of conversation, let me say that there isn’t much for me to give. You are the expert, professor, not me. I have come to you seeking answers, your point of view. I have neither.”
“Have you yourself seen this phenomenon?”
She swallows. The skin of her neck stretched so tight I can see it move down her throat like a mouse under a bedsheet.
“I have, yes,” she says.
“And what is your opinion of it?”
“How would you describe it? Not professionally, not as an expert, but you personally. What do you think it is?”
“Oh, that I couldn’t say,” she says, shaking her head, eyes down, as though I am flirting with her and the attention is cause for embarrassment.
She raises her eyes to me. “Because there is no name for it I could give,” she says.
I should ask her to go. Whatever curiosity I held about her when I first spotted her outside the office door is gone. This exchange can go nowhere now but into some revelation of deeper strangeness, and not of the amusing anecdote variety, not something about a crazy woman’s proposal I might later repeat at dinner parties. Because she’s not crazy. Because the usual veil of protection one feels while experiencing brief intersections with the harmlessly eccentric has been lifted, and I feel exposed.
“Why do you need me?” I find myself saying instead. “There are a lot of English profs out there.”
“But few demonologists.”
“That’s not how I would describe myself.”
“No?” She grins. A show of giddy humor that is meant to distract from how clearly serious she is. “You are a renowned expert on religious narrative, mythology, and the like, are you not? In particular, the recorded occurrences of biblical mention of the Adversary? Apocryphal documentation of demonic activity in the ancient world? Is my research in error?”
“All that you say is true. But I don’t know anything about demons or inventions of that kind outside of those texts.”
“Of course! We didn’t expect you to have firsthand experience.”
“Who would indeed! No, professor, it is only your academic qualifications that we seek.”
“I’m not sure you understand. I don’t believe.”
She merely frowns at this in apparent lack of comprehension.
“I’m not a cleric. Not a theologian either, for that matter. I don’t accept the existence of demons any more than that of Santa Claus,” I go on. “I don’t go to church. I don’t see the events in the Bible or any other holy document as having actually occurred, particularly not as they pertain to the supernatural. You want a demonologist, I suggest you contact the Vatican. Maybe there are some there who still take that stuff seriously.”
“Yes.” She grins again. “I assure you there are.”
“You work for the Church?”
“I work for an agency that has been endowed with a substantial budget and wide-ranging responsibilities.”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
She leans forward. Her blunt elbows audibly meeting her knees. “I know you have an appointment. You currently still have time to travel to Grand Central to make it. So may I now deliver you my client’s proposal?”
“Wait. I didn’t tell you I was going to Grand Central.”
“No. You did not.”
She doesn’t move. Her stillness a point of emphasis.
“May I?” she asks again, after what feels like a full minute.
I lean back, gesturing for her to continue. There is no more pretending I have a choice in the matter. She has, in just the last moments, enlarged her presence in the room so that she now blocks the door as effectively as a nightclub bouncer.
“We will fly you to Venice at your earliest convenience. Tomorrow, preferably. You will be accommodated at one of the old city’s finest hotels—my personal favorite, if I may add. Once there, you will attend at an address to be provided. No written document or report of any kind will be required. In fact, we ask that you not acknowledge your observations to anyone other than the individuals attending on-site. That is all. Of course, all expenses will be paid. Business class flight. Along with a consulting fee we hope you will feel is reasonable.”
At this she stands. Takes the single step required to reach my desk, picks a pen out of a coffee mug, and scribbles a figure onto the memo pad next to the phone. It is a sum just over a third my annual salary.
“You’ll pay me this to go to Venice and visit somebody’s house? Turn around and fly back? That’s it?”
“It’s a hell of a story.”
“You doubt my sincerity?”
“I hope you’re not hurt.”
“Not at all. I sometimes forget that, for some, verification is required.”
She reaches into the inside pocket of her jacket. Lays a white business envelope on my desk. Unaddressed.
“Aircraft voucher. Prepaid hotel reservation. Certified check for a quarter of your payment, the remainder to be paid upon your return. And the address at which you are to be in attendance.”
I let my hand hover over the envelope, as though touching it would concede a crucial point.
“Naturally, you are welcome to bring your family with you,” she says. “You have a wife? A daughter?”
“A daughter, yes. I’m less certain about the wife.”
She looks up at the ceiling, closes her eyes. Then recites:
Hail wedded love, mysterious law, true source
Of human offspring, sole propriety
In Paradise of all things common else.
“You’re a Milton scholar, too?” I ask when she’s opened her eyes again.
“Not of your rank, professor. I am an admirer only.”
“Not many casual admirers have him memorized.”
“Learned knowledge. It is a gift of mine. Though I have never experienced what the poet describes. Human offspring. I am childless.”
This last confession is surprising. After all the elusiveness, she offers this most personal fact freely, almost sadly.
“Milton was right about the joy of offspring,” I say. “But trust me, he was way off about marriage as being common with paradise.”
She nods, though seemingly not at my remark. Something else has been confirmed for her. Or perhaps she has merely delivered all that she was meant to, and is awaiting my reply. So I give it to her.
“My answer is no. Whatever this is about, it’s intriguing, but quite beyond my scope. There’s no way I could accept.”
“You misunderstand. I am not here to hear your answer, professor. I am here to deliver an invitation, that is all.”
“Fine. But I’m afraid your client will be disappointed.”
“That is rarely the case.”
In a single motion, she turns. Steps out of the room. I expect a cordial acknowledgment of some kind, a Good day, professor or wave of her bony hand, but she only starts clipping down the hall toward the stairs.
By the time I lift myself out of my chair and poke my head out the door to look after her, she’s already gone.
What People are Saying About This
“Andrew Pyper’s satisfying prose propels a narrative sure to please readers with or without a dog-eared copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost on their shelves. If you’re looking for smart horror that chills without resorting to Grand Guignol, give The Demonologist a try.”
“Smart, thrilling, and utterly unnerving. Pyper’s gift is that he deeply respects his readers, yet still insists on reducing them to quivering children. I like that in a writer.”
“The Demonologist is that rare thing—a novel that is both genuinely terrifying and erudite. The research is excellent and lightly worn, the pace and cleverness of the plot thrilling. One of the most exciting works of fiction I’ve read for some time.”
“Richly crafted, deliriously scary and compulsively page-turning from beginning to end. Imagine The Exorcist and The Da Vinci Code as penned by Daphne du Maurier. Don't miss this one!”
“Plenty of books claim to be scary, but this is genuinely terrifying, don’t-read-late-at-night stuff. Thrilling, compelling and beautifully written, The Demonologist makes Rosemary's Baby feel like a walk in the park.”
“As compelling and smoothly chilling a tale as you’ll find this year. The Demonologist shows an enormously gifted writer at the top of his game, producing a novel of eerie menace and unique depth. Those of us who write supernatural stories do not throw the names Ira Levin, William Peter Blatty, and Peter Straub around lightly. You’ll be hearing all three associated with Mr. Pyper soon, and all such comparisons are warranted, the highest praise I can offer.”
“Smart and astonishing, Andrew Pyper has created a recurring nightmare for adults. The Demonologist holds a mirror to the reader and reveals the places where our deepest darkness lurks. Like Milton’s Paradise Lost, this is the story of the human condition, the fall, and the way back. I slept with the light on for nights, too obsessed to stop reading and too terrified to dream.”
Reading Group Guide
A Conversation with Andrew Pyper
Q: Your main character, David Ullman, is a literature professor who specializes in Milton’s Paradise Lost. How familiar were you with that text before you started writing The Demonologist? How did you use that poem to help shape the plot and events in your novel?
I'd read Paradise Lost as an undergrad at university, but remembered little about it. No, not true: I remembered few details, but carried with me with the persuasive arguments and pitiable dilemma of its arguable protagonist, Satan. For the stretches when he is its speaker, I found the poem electrifying, almost dangerous in its charms. But when the devil is off-stage, I remember feeling it was a bit of a slog. At the time, I would have agreed with Dr. Johnson's assessment that "None ever wished it longer."
Jump ahead twenty years, and I'm a novelist. (I'm also a father – this will become significant in a moment). For some time, I'd been pondering a way to create a new kind of demonic mythology in a work of fiction, one without priests or exorcisms or scalding holy water or the usual trappings of a "possession" story. I wanted to imagine a narrative that made demons seem grounded and real – a plausible explanation for why some people, some of the time, act in the irrational ways they do. To achieve this, the relationship between the human and demonic actors in the story would have to be at once mysterious and coherent, fantastical and believable. It was in devising what might be used as the foundation to this world that I recalled Paradise Lost. Again, it wasn't the poem as such that I thought of, but the feeling it left me with, the vibrancy of its anti-hero, his pain and veiled fury and terrible loneliness. In short, it was a character I thought of first. An emotional connection, not a monster.
Q: David is a scholar of demonology, but he’s firmly secular in his personal life. How much of you is there in that character?
As with all my protagonists, there is a good part of myself in David Ullman, though there are more numerous parts I have nothing in common with. David and I are both fathers, both readers, both bookworms. And yes, neither of us are religious in any meaningful way. But where I leave a door ajar in my mind for the entry of the impossible and inexplicable and uncanny, David is (at the start of the novel anyway) a wholly committed atheist, a rationalist, the kind of man who sees faith as an inferior intellectual practice. On that score, among others – the entertainment of wild thinking – we couldn't be more different.
Q: Another trait you share with David is fatherhood. What was it like writing a novel about a father trying to rescue his daughter from not only death, but possibly a fate worse than death—demonic possession?
It might sound strange to say that I frequently wept while writing a suspense thriller about demons, but working through The Demonologist brought a lot emotions close to the surface, many of them surprising me in their rawness and ferocity. Primary among these is the love I have for my children, and because Tess is a girl, I thought mostly about my own daughter, Maude. Never has a dedication been more deserved, as there's no way I could have found a way into this story – nor to David, nor even to the particular suffering of the Unnamed – without her. I knew that to make the novel work on an emotional level, I had to imagine the situation I fear most. To make the reader afraid, I had to be afraid. And I often was. It's all made me a more grateful parent, believe me.
Q: The Demonologist is a superb thriller in its own right, but is also crosses into the horror genre. As a writer, what do you think make for the scariest scenes? How do you put a twist on a realistic thriller to give it the qualities people look for in a horror novel?
Horror, for me, is not defined by the thing that provokes one's fear, but the human being who has contact with it. I love scary stories and horror movies, though in my opinion they can too often fail to be fully realized aesthetic experiences because the emphasis is on the monster, the ghost, the vampire, instead of on why the uncanny has chosen to visit a particular character, how they experience it, the ways they are altered by this tear in the normal fabric of their lives. Q
: What is the scariest book you’ve ever read?
There is no winner here, only a deeply influential shortlist. I remember my mother forbidding me from reading Stephen King's The Shining when I was halfway through it as a kid, it made me so skittish and plagued by nightmares and generally worrying to live with (though I naturally ignored her). Later, Henry James's The Turn of the Screw showed me how delicious it could be, as a reader, to walk the razor's edge between believing the ghosts (or whatever uncanny thing) in a story are "real," or the psychological projections of the character. Later still, Dennis McFarland's A Face at the Window proved – as if it needed proving – that a literary novel of character and horror are not only compatible, but potentially better partnered than any other sub-genres.
Finally, though, I return to childhood. To a week I spent at a Christian summer camp (don't ask), reading the bible in my tent while cowering from the bullies who declared, from the moment I got off the bus, that "By the end of the week...you're dead." It was there that I came upon the Book of Revelations. It's haunted me ever since.
Q: Has writing The Demonologist changed any of your beliefs about the paranormal?
Yes, and I think I’ll just leave it at that.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Read it in one sitting, ignoring sleep, the phone, dinner and other annoyances. I disagree with the idea that it is on par with "The Historian," a book I couldn't manage to read past the first 60 pages. If you like Stephanie Meyers or writing of that mien, don't buy this book. But if you like Dennis Lehane, John Connolly or Richard Kadrey, this book is for you. Enjoy!
What occurs when one is confronted with experiential proof of that which one “knew” not to exist? How to respond to a threat that is verifiably real, but cannot be seen, touched or admitted to by the majority of humanity to exist yet has caused damage to those you love? For David Ullman, professor at Columbia University and world renowned expert on Demonic Literature, specifically Milton’s Paradise Lost, the answer to those questions go from academic and rhetorical to vital and very much to be answered when his 11-year-old daughter whispers to him, as she falls from a ledge, seemingly while in the control of a malevolent spirit, “find me.” At the time of his daughter’s “mishap,” Dr. Ullman was on a trip to access a mysterious phenomenon he was commissioned to witness in Venice. What he saw was the apparent demonic possession of a man with a specific message for Dr. Ullman. From the moment the book changes from a pedestrian thriller to an intelligent, frightening quest for enlightenment through self-sacrifice, struggle and Grace. In his search for his daughter “before she becomes mine (the demon),” he must face why he has chosen to become an expert in an area that “requires” faith yet he has no belief in anything beyond the academic interest in the literature he teaches. In answering these questions, he discovers a truth that is painful, fitting, clarifying and helps him to make sense of his world. The Truth this revelation brings is of more depth than what he has found in his “unknowing” teaching. The psychological parallels and theological allegories to be found in this book are legion. The damage done a child can be life-changing and its mending can cause that pain can reveal strengths unknown. No one travels alone, nor is a single cord stronger than two wound together. “Never tire of doing good” the Apostle Paul told the Thessalonians and that admonition is shown to be made of durable cloth in the life Dr. Ullman. There are terrifying moments in this book. I find little to fear in mythology or science fiction and my heart raced at moments. There are also moments of graphic violence that can leave the reader with unwanted images. Perhaps a readership that reads “scary” novels needs a voice that speaks of things far larger & stronger than demons, Mr. Pyper has certainly given that voice a large microphone.
This is a strange book, not because of content, but because of the way in which the Author chose to write both the storyline and develop the character of the main protagonist. The story is told through the words of the main character, and the settings in which the storyline takes places are experienced by the reader through the eyes of this character. One trait the reader learns early on in the novel this character possesses is that of melancholy, and it is this trait that saturates every word, action and observation the main lead takes. This trait has a habit of making the book move at a much slower pace than I would have expected from a topic such as this, but it also serves the purpose of making the reader take time as they progress through the pages to ensure they don’t miss the meanings of anything covered. The European location is very well written, and after having spent some time here, I could picture the twists and turns that were taken in this city. The Author obviously thought long and hard when writing his book, as to which location would serve as the best setting for this portion of their work; by choosing this one I felt they had done an outstanding job, as it lends itself perfectly to this type of storyline. It is apparent from some sections of the book too, that the Author did a great deal of research in Milton’s Paradise Lost, and comes up with some very well educated explanations for some of the verses which really added another dimension to this book. Although I did enjoy this book, I found after a while the way in which it was written was becoming depressing and, although this may not detract from some readers enjoyment of this novel I felt like it kept me from liking this read more than I did. I applaud the way in which the Author tackled the topics covered in this novel, but I don’t think I will be reading anymore of their work as their writing style really isn’t for me. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoyed The Historian and also lovers of the Supernatural/Paranormal genre.
I liked reading this book so much, that I bought the Trade Mission and Paradise Lost right after I finished it.
Great writing and story. Couldn't put it down.
Suspenseful and unnerving. Excellent writing. Simply a great book.
If you enjoy reading a dark thriller with supernatural elements, you will like this novel. It’s already being made into a movie, and it’s easy to see why. It has demons, apparitions using images of the dead, literature, and fast paced action. I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but if you are a fan of this genre, you should definitely read this book before seeing the movie. It’s pretty spooky. Michael Travis Jasper, Author of the Novel “To Be Chosen”
This is an eerie, unsettling novel about a haunted academic. Loved it.
The first 100 pp thoroughly captivated me. Not sure that I like the ending.....not sure if I understand the ending. LOL It didn't seem to tie events together. Maybe I should try to read Paradise Lost?
it's a good read, but not as good as The Historian. Likable characters and an interesting supernatural story. that keeps you reading. The author references "Paradise Lost" throughout the novel, but no matter if you haven't read it, the author does a good job of explaining it's relevance. Overall, I do recommend this book. Enjoy!
The Demonologist Andrew Pyper ISBN: 978-1-4516-9741-4 *This is an ARC copy via goodreads giveaway* 5 Stars! When Professor David Ullman, expert scholar of Milton’s Paradise Lost, receives an offer to travel to Venice, Italy by a mysterious woman it seems to be a much needed break from his personal dilemma. He is expected to witness something, a phenomenon, for a large amount of money. He’s uneasy about the task and unsure how his opinion can help the woman and her employer since he is not a believer, but sees this trip as an escape for his daughter as well as himself. After an unimaginable tragedy in Venice, David finds himself following symbols and clues provided mostly by the book he has studied the most of his life to save his daughter from the demonic entity that has stolen her and is testing him. I will say up front that this is one of the best books I have read in a long time. The plot is original and very thought provoking. It’s smart and even though I am of my own opinions in this particular area there were many times that I found myself contemplating ideas. The margins now have notes and pages are marked for me to go back to, which is not uncommon but has been a rare practice of mine lately. The characters are as good as the plot. David is very vivid; a complex character but also very relatable. It was also clear how important the minor characters were to the story. I have nothing negative to say about this novel. This will be reread and I will pass it down to my husband. I cannot recommend this one enough!
"The mind is its own place, and in it self Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven." "The Demonologist" is a wonderfully literate, fast-paced, party-psychological/part-supernatural thriller. The plot and pacing have a distinctly cinematic feel. Author Andrew Pyper's smart and polished prose, creates a very visual and emotional narrative. The plot centers around David Ullman, a professor and expert of John Milton's "Paradise Lost", who's drawn into an ever intriguing plot that's both religious horror and literary mystery: imagine if "The Exorcist" and "Da Vinci Code" had a baby. Ullman's daughter is drawn down into the literal depths of a lost paradise, as David travels from New York to Venice, and then across the U.S., finding physical and metaphysical clues and using Milton's famed poem as a guidepost to save his daughter. Battling psychological demons tied to a traumatic childhood and a widening gap between with his soon-to-be ex wife, David comes to terms with the more supernatural aspects of the mystery: "Why is demonology more common than reincarnation, more than sacrificial offerings, more than the way we pray or the houses of worship where we congregate or the form the apocalypse will take at the end of time? Because demons exist." Ullman uses his mastery of language to craft a beautifully nuanced story and set of characters. Ullman and his daughter are the most three dimensional of the small cast, and the relationship between the two provides the emotional fuel that drives the movement between plot sequences. The only thing holding me back from adding a fifth star to the rating is that Pyper didn't take full advantage of his writing skills to further flesh out key character backstories, and build a third dimension on the primary antagonist. He easily could’ve included an additional 150 pages to deepen the mystery and further explore the elements of horror. The advance reader copy I reviewed mentions that the book has already been optioned by a high profile Hollywood production company, and with its’ elements of horror and mystery, the story will translate extremely well to the big screen. It's visual; it moves quickly, the characters are interesting and the deep affecting father-daughter love story is immediately relatable. I recommend “The Demonologist” without reservation. It’s a fun, deep, and rewardingly scary read. I received "The Demonologist" through Amazon's Vine program.
I have read better. I enjoyed the beginning and the ending...the middle got a little slow. Not a book I would recommend.