The Demonologist follows David Ullman; a Columbia Professor who is a remarkable expert on demonic mythology. The book starts off with several page-burning jolts, such as his troubled marriage, his visit by the Thin Woman, and his invitation to Venice, Italy to witness “a phenomenon.” The reason for his invitation, on the surface, is because of his vast knowledge of all things demonic. It appears that someone requires his expertise to assist in an unexplained situation. Thanks to the sum of money offered, and the chance for a vacation overseas, the Professor agrees.
It should be noted, however, that David’s expertise on demons does not mean that he actually believes in them. It also does not, on the other hand, suggest that he believes in God. These are critical facts of the story, since to move forward toward the climax, the Professor will clearly need to adjust his belief system.
Any reader worth their salt will quickly surmise that what he will witness in Venice will be troublesome. It’s also a good guess that his decision to bring his twelve-year-old daughter is probably not a good one. I’m not sharing a spoiler by telling you that what David encounters in Venice is beyond wicked. Midway through his Venice trip, David visits a man who’s possessed by Legion. The scene is expertly written, as the description of the encounter is nothing short of chilling. In typical Pyper fashion, the writing at this point raises goose-flesh and inspires terrible feelings of uneasiness. Several grimace-worthy descriptions will ensure that you understand that pure evil does indeed exist. Yes, it’s that well done.
The demon who addresses David in this exchange clearly wants to do the Professor harm. Simultaneously, the Unnamed also wants to use David as a messenger. The meeting doesn’t go well. Somehow, the encounter seems to have opened an unearthly door, and David, a self-proclaimed non-believer, is now teetering at the entrance. He exits the scene quickly. It’s time to leave Venice. How quickly can they get out?
Shortly after this encounter, the demon steals David’s beloved daughter. Before her descent, Tess says to her father “find me.” The chase to rescue her from the Underworld begins.
Now I need to break the review into two halves: first half of the novel… second half.
First half: 4 stars.
Phenomenal prose. Fascinating detail. A wealth of historical knowledge. Disturbing facts about those who are included among Legion. Beautifully crafted conversations. Compelling plot. Rich characters. Clever literary links to Milton’s Paradise Lost, and its relevance to the chase. Overall, a great, creepy tale. I gobbled the first half. I especially loved the pithy dialogue, and the growing friendship between David and his formidable colleague O’Brien. Over the course of Demonologist’s first half, I thought that the story was building toward a remarkable crescendo, and I could not wait for what I believed to be the final battle between David and the Unnamed. No one can challenge the intelligence of Pyper’s writing, his attention to detail, or his research. They are all exemplary.
Second half: 3 stars.
The novel’s pace changed dramatically in its second half. The writing was still terrific, and the detail was still meticulous. I remained invested in the welfare of the key characters, and certainly wanted to see a happy ending. However, the story seemed to get somewhat mired in its detail. The effort to link the chase to Paradise Lost, while fascinating, seemed to become a plot hindrance. The conversations seemed longer. The story seemed to jump around. While I didn’t get lost, I did get confused a few times. My biggest challenge with the novel’s second half, however, was the end. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just note that the final battle did not meet my expectations. It roared in like a lion, and left like a lamb. Not what I was expecting, after having chills run my spine for many chapters.
Would I still recommend this novel? Yes — reading Andrew Pyper is always worth your while. His writing is smart and his characters are clever. One of my favorite qualities of David was how dry he was. I loved his style, and appreciated how he grappled with what he was facing, and how it contradicted his personal beliefs. Truly, we all have our demons. In this instance, they were real. That message was not lost on me.
This audiobook was narrated by John Beford Lloyd, and he was terrific. Perfect tones, and just the right amount of otherworldliness when the demon came into play. If you can make me wince with just your voice, then hats off!
Overall review: 3.5 stars for The Demonologist.