the-damnedThe Damned
Andrew Pyper
Gallery Books
February, 2015
Reviewed by Josh Black

Hot off the heels of his bestselling 2013 novel The Demonologist, Andrew Pyper returns with a novel about death, life, and the ways we’re haunted in each of them. Building on some of the themes that characterize Pyper’s recent output, The Damned is another rock-solid entry into an already impressive oeuvre.

At sixteen, Danny Orchard and his sociopathic twin sister Ashleigh died in a fire. For whatever reason Danny came back, and Ashleigh isn’t happy about it. Two decades after the fire, Danny is the author of a best-selling memoir describing his experience on the other side, and the unwitting progenitor of a nationwide “support group” for people who have had near-death experiences.

Having lived most of his life alone thanks to the interference of Ashleigh’s highly possessive spirit, he manages to meet someone, fall in love and get married. His wife and stepson are the world to him, and his sister intends on destroying that world. Ashleigh soon becomes able to affect things in a very physical way. From this point on the tension ramps up and the story moves at a brisk clip. Things escalate so quickly that, midway through, readers may find themselves wondering how half a book remains to be read.

Structurally it’s an interesting book. It’s divided into three parts, with a brief epilogue to wrap things up. The first part deals with Danny’s past, the second with his current predicament. Hints of the film Insidious run throughout the novel, and the final act goes into territory that typically isn’t traversed in horror fiction with as much detail as it is here. The ghostly surreality of the whole thing bears echoes of T.M. Wright’s writing. Even considering these similarities, Pyper’s novel is very much his own, and fans of those types of stories will have that much more incentive to read it.

The Damned is a thrill ride to be sure, but it’s one that’s not afraid to explore some big issues. It explores the biggest ones, really – life and death, with Danny and Ashleigh respectively symbolizing each one. They’re no mere caricatures, though. They’re complex characters (even Ashleigh is disarmingly sympathetic at times), moving through a plot-focused narrative. There’s a vivid, cinematic quality to the writing, particularly in some of the more nightmarish settings, and the story shifts seamlessly from dark family drama to detective fiction to horror, all with tightly written and nuanced prose.

This is the kind of book that can unsettle, anger, and bring you to tears, sometimes all at once. It’s a cerebral read that still delves into our universal, primal fears and concerns. Simply put, The Damned is a consistently engaging thriller that readers of dark fiction shouldn’t pass up.

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