cover image The Demonologist

The Demonologist

Andrew Pyper. Simon & Schuster, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4516-9741-4

A mesmerizing and melancholy narrative voice lends chilling credibility to this exceptional supernatural thriller. Milton scholar David Ullman, who teaches English literature at Columbia, believes that loneliness, each person’s going like Adam and Eve “their solitary way,” is the real theme of Paradise Lost. Outside of work, the professor has a failed marriage and a beloved 11-year-old daughter, Tess. One day, a “worryingly thin” woman with a generic European accent shows up at his campus office with an unusual offer. The woman, who says she represents a client “who demands discretion above all,” will pay Ullman a sum a third larger than his annual salary if he will travel immediately to Venice to observe a “phenomenon” that his expertise on demons qualifies him to assess. Ullman protests that he doesn’t believe in demons, but in the end, accompanied by Tess, he goes to Venice, where tragedy ensues. Pyper (Lost Girl) is especially gifted at plausibly anthropomorphizing inanimate objects to creepy effect. A standard rural mailbox is transformed into “a stooped figure, lurching after me, its mouth wide in a scream”; a book becomes “a mouth gasping for air.” Agent: Stephanie Cabot, the Gernert Company. (Mar.)