Saturday, November 19, 2016

campfire reading, part two of two: Devil in the Darkness, by Archie Roy

Valancourt Books, 2016
originally published 1978
158 pp


Book two of the campfire reads and oh, it's a good one! Then again, I'm a huge huge fan of haunted house stories; add in the "benighted" aspect and there's no holding me back.  Devil in the Darkness made me crazy happy -- sometimes I'm just in it for story and this book did not at all disappoint.

The author of this book is no fly-by-night dude who decided one day to write a book about a haunted house.  Archie Roy was a celebrated scientist, and in his introduction to this novel, Greg Gbur notes that
"what we have in Archie Roy's Devil in the Darkness is a truly unique novel: a haunted house tale written by a man who was simultaneously a professional physical scientist, a professional author, and a professional paranormal investigator." 
 While that's interesting to note, the real draw is the story itself -- it's one I couldn't put down until I'd finished the entire book.  I'm all about reading ambience, and with nature at night in the background -- owls calling, scuffling noises in the dried leaves on the ground, and the crackle of an open campfire in an otherwise silent darkness, I found the perfect setting for reading this book.

Set in Scotland, a newlywed couple on the way to their honeymoon destination find themselves lost and caught up in a horrific snowstorm. As the road begins to deteriorate, as the windshield wipers fail, and as the couple is unable to turn around to make it back to safety, Paul and Carol Wilson decide that it's time to take shelter anywhere they can find it. In the darkness they see a light, leading them to Ardvreck House.  The man who answers the door informs him that he and Carol are welcome to stay, and that all of the people currently in the house are "strangers."  Other than that bit of information, no one tells the newlyweds who are they are, where they're from, or why they're there in the house, but since the Wilsons plan on leaving in the morning, it doesn't seem too important at the time.  The newlyweds are given a room, where they bed down for the night. At about 2:20 a.m., Paul is awakened by strange sounds from the room above theirs, goes up to investigate, and finds nothing. The next day, they depart, but return to the house when they discover that the road ahead is no good, and they're stuck for the duration.  It is then when their housemates reveal what they're doing at Ardvreck House, and it is not long at all before the Wilsons become witnesses to strange events taking place there.  Discovering what lies at the heart of these dark doings becomes a quest for everyone in the house, but whatever it is that shares the house with these people isn't going to make things easy for them.

Greg Gbur in his introduction goes on to say that the revelation behind what's going on in this house "clearly draws upon Roy's own investigations and theories about hauntings," which makes the story even more fun to read, knowing that it comes from the mind of someone who's spent a lot of time in reputedly-haunted houses.  While it may not be the best haunted house story I've ever read (the honor there goes hands down to The Haunting of Hill House), it's definitely fun with a good, solid mystery at its core.  And when all is said and done, it's also highly satisfying and just oozes atmosphere.

With no gore and no guts spilling out anywhere, Devil in the Darkness reminds us that blood doesn't need to be splashed all over a horror novel's pages for it to provide good, solid entertainment and a story that will keep its reader turning pages.  I had a lot of fun with this book and once again, a salute to the Valancourt guys for liking it enough to re-introduce it into the reading world. I liked it enough to immediately buy two other books by Archie Roy, so that should say something right there.

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