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The Late Review: The Damned

2nd Mar, 2022

Author: Peter Tennant

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From Andrew Pyper we have The Damned (Orion Books tpb, 328pp), a ghost story with a difference. Ashleigh and Danny Orchard are twins. Danny is shy, introspective; Ash is outwardly beautiful, charming, but inside she is a monster who makes life a misery for the whole family. Then she is murdered, burnt to death in an abandoned house where the body of another girl was found. Danny died trying to save her, but was brought back by medical intervention, and wrote a book about his Near Death Experience called 'The After', offering believers the proof of a unique and individual kind of afterlife. He has lived on his reputation ever since, though the spirit of Ash always seems to be hovering in the background, ready to blight any chance he has at happiness. Finding a way back into the world, Ash embroils Danny in her plans, using the safety of those he cares about to force his compliance. Danny must return to his home town of Detroit and the house where Ash burned to death to solve his sister's murder, but along the way he learns more about the past of his family than he is comfortable with, and in a distorted version of Detroit on another plane of existence he must finally deal with his sister's malevolent spirit.

There's a lot of good stuff here. Danny is a nicely drawn character and he gives us an intriguing picture of the afterlife, one that piques the reader's interest and has about it the feel of credibility, despite the lack of any religious dimension. Better still is Ash, a truly evil being, with psychopathic personality traits that chill, and the explanation for her malevolence adds another frisson to the story. These two and the rest of the cast of this book - Danny's family, love interest Willa and her son Eddie - are all engaging characters and hold the interest effortlessly. And then there's a compelling murder mystery, as Danny learns things about Ash's death and his family's role that undermine his world view.

Where the book falls down though is in the supernatural or metaphysical side of things, with Ash seemingly capable of anything, murdering people at will, but all the same incapable of overcoming the brother she threatened and controlled for all those years. Similarly we move further away from Danny's vision of the afterlife, with a neat and appealing concept diluted into the vast sprawl of otherworld Detroit in which practically anything goes and supernatural help is always conveniently at hand. In my mind there is the suspicion that all of this was simply done so that Pyper could add some action sequences to his story instead of having it rooted in the mundane, however threatening. And so Danny gets chased by hordes of the grudging dead, murderous tigers and attacked by giant wolves, none of which really add anything valuable to the story, seem just like white noise to pad the story out and distract the reader.

It's an effortless read, a real page turner, but ultimately I felt The Damned was more in the nature of missed opportunity, a book that attempted to go the thriller route rather than the chiller and so failed on both counts. It had ambition, but exceeded its reach and in doing so pushed credibility off the side of a mountain and undermined the very things that made it unique and appealing.

 

 

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