The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper (finally) reviewed.

The DemonologistThe Demonologist
by Andrew Pyper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Published March 5th 2013 by Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 1451697414

Professor David Ullman’s expertise in the literature of the demonic—notably Milton’s Paradise Lost—has won him wide acclaim. But David is not a believer.

One afternoon he receives a visitor at his campus office, a strikingly thin woman who offers him an invitation: travel to Venice, Italy, witness a “phenomenon,” and offer his professional opinion, in return for an extravagant sum of money. Needing a fresh start, David accepts and heads to Italy with his beloved twelve-year-old daughter Tess.

What happens in Venice will send David on an unimaginable journey from skeptic to true believer, as he opens himself up to the possibility that demons really do exist. In a terrifying quest guided by symbols and riddles from the pages of Paradise Lost, David attempts to rescue his daughter from the Unnamed—a demonic entity that has chosen him as its messenger. -from Goodreads
The UK cover. Much prettier, non?

I want to clarify that though I gave this book 3 stars I didn't like it. It was just written well enough that to rate it lower would have been spiteful.

David Ullman is a professor at Columbia University. He has a strong friendship with colleague and psychologist Elaine O'Brien, but is otherwise a solitary man. His marriage is ending, and his wife has been cheating on him with yet another Columbia prof. His relationship with his preteen daughter Tess is the best thing he's got at the opening of the novel. Unfortunately, through a series of uncanny events that lead to an impromptu trip to Venice sponsored by a mysterious employer, Tess is taken from him. David is willing to do anything to get her back, up to and including striding into Hell.

Now, the first thing that must be said is that The Demonologist takes itself pretty seriously. It is written about a university professor of literature by what sounds like an academic, probably a university professor of literature — or a writer trying very hard to sound like one. Pyper gets points there.

The story has thrilling, introspective and scary moments. On two separate occasions I was chilled, though this is not saying much, I am easily scared. I can't even read the Bible without getting freaked out. Unfortunately for me, quotes from Milton and Revelations make up a substantial amount of the dialogue, and are the fulcrums on which the plot turns. This is both positive, as it fits in the academic narrator framework, and negative, as the relation between the quotation-clues seems arbitrary, though the quotations themselves are familiar.

Despite that, in a way, it all does work. The basis of the supernatural element of this work is that maybe all of the stories of angels and demons and denizens of hell are true, and the mind is a space — the ultimate battleground for humanity. What separates the sane and good from the morally compromised and possessed is the belief. Once you've gotten this and suspended reality, you are taken on quite a ride. Pyper's David Ullman totally pulls this off.

Unfortunately for my opinion of the book, and this review, this wasn't enough to win me over. For a book that takes itself as seriously as The Demonologist does, the number of tired tropes motivating the narration are just lazy. A cuckolded academic chosen to be the cosmic harbinger of demonic existence? A damsel in distress, and not only that, but also a child-like Eurydice? (The Orpheus/Eurydice trope is referenced in the text, but STILL). A terminally ill woman who has nothing more important to her in her final weeks than to join a seemingly insane friend on a cross country wild goose chase?

The jacket of the ARC I was reading (won through a FirstReads giveaway) said the book is in development for a movie. Well, it did read a lot like a screenplay at times. Not in a bad way. It was what it was.

Altogether, I think this is a book most readers will enjoy. I can't say it wasn't an engrossing read. If you're not nitpicky, and can stomach the description of women (albeit dead women) being beaten, and a general lack of character development for them, well, have at it. Just read it during the day.

p.s. Click here to see the spoilers I removed in the full review on Goodreads, if you're into that.

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