cover image The Devil’s Playground

The Devil’s Playground

Craig Russell. Doubleday, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385549-01-1

Russell (Hyde) brilliantly braids together clues and scares for a superior standalone about the production of a legendary horror film. In 1967, film historian Paul Conway is on a quest for a surviving print of The Devil’s Playground, once considered “the greatest horror movie, sound or silent, of all time.” According to popular wisdom, all copies of the film were torched during a fire at Carbine International Studio, but Paul follows up on a rumor that a single print survived, which takes him to the desert home of a reclusive actress who was connected to the production. Everyone else involved with the movie has died or disappeared, victims of a supposed Exorcist-style curse caused by the resurrection of a demon during filming. In a parallel 1927 timeline, Carbine Studio fixer Mary Rourke is called to the Hollywood home of Norma Carlton, star of The Devil’s Playground, who’s died by apparent overdose. The studio’s cover-up goes into overdrive when an autopsy reveals Norma was murdered, and Mary learns through the course of her investigation that most of Tinseltown’s horrors aren’t of the supernatural variety. Russell’s painstakingly researched Old Hollywood sections carry the vivid grit and texture many historical mysteries lack, and he’s exceptionally good at maintaining a creepy atmosphere. This intelligent page-turner belongs on the shelf next to Riley Sager’s film-steeped thrillers. Esmond Harmsworth, Aevitas Creative Management. (June)