cover image Devil House

Devil House

John Darnielle. MCD, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-0-374-21223-0

In this riveting metafictional epic, Mountain Goats singer-songwriter Darnielle (Universal Harvester) flays the conventions of true crime to reveal the macabre and ordinary brutality behind sensationalized stories of violence. True crime writer Gage Chandler has spent the last five years living in the “Devil House” in Milpitas, Calif., where he’s been working on a book about an unsolved murder that took place there in 1986, during the height of the Satanic Panic. Interspliced with Gage’s investigation are long excerpts from one of his previous books, The White Witch of Morro Bay, which recounts the gruesome end for two teenage boys who broke into their teacher’s apartment. Gage’s multilayered narrative of the Devil House murders slowly builds from conjecture to the victims’ ventriloquized voices, lending itself well to Darnielle’s themes about the artifice of the genre: “Formalities, when carefully tended, quietly congregate to make form,” Gage notes. This masterwork of suspense is as careful with its sharp takes as it is with the bread crumbs it slowly drops on the way to its stunning end. It operates perfectly on many levels, resulting in a must-read for true crime addicts and experimental fiction fans alike. Agent: Chris Parris-Lamb, the Gernert Company. (Jan.)