My rating: 5 of 5 stars
An Ania Ahlborn book is always a great choice for Women In Horror Month, and The Devil Crept In is a particularly powerful and emotionally resonant novel to spend a few days with.
This is a story of a missing child, Jude, and his cousin's search for answers. Stevie, though, suffers from a number of problems, the top of which are some psychiatric disorders, including echolalia, which prompts him to repeat words and rhyme nonsensically. The status of his mental health is in constant question, and Ahlborn does a solid job using this doubt to generate a layer of suspense. We, as readers, trust Stevie and the account Ahlborn delivers, but the doubt and unreliability he possess in the eyes of others, particularly his own family, and the discounting of his claims as little more than urban legend, provide a certain dark edge of distrust.
Much of the book's first third is a slow-burn, as the author unpacks the central mysteries of her story in Deep Valley and slowly ratchets up the suspense. By the end of Part Two (of Three), this sucker is flying toward resolution, providing plenty of worthy squirmy moments along the way, and more than a scene or two that should leave plenty of folks in dismay. And given the particular nature of abuse toward children presented, particularly in the latter half of Part Two, I was compelled to hug my kid for just a little bit longer, out of love and gratitude.
Ahlborn does a masterful job of layering her story with several concepts of classic horror, taking the "less is more" approach. Her words carry a subtle guidance toward the truth of her narrative, leading us down particular paths and letting our own imagination do a lot of the heavy lifting. Alongside this is an element of creeping dread and a heady atmosphere brought on by the forested setting, and the nightmare lurking within the woods.
[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.]
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