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A Demon Inside / Rick R. Reed

MLR Press / June 2010
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

In this sixteenth novel and fifth with MLR Press, Rick R. Reed gives the traditional ghost story a non-traditional twist with mixed results. Hunter Beaumont makes a deathbed promise to his dying grandmother, the wealthy matriarch of a troubled family line. That promise involves destroying part of his sizable inheritance – a looming old mansion known as Beaumont House buried deep within the Wisconsin woods and sporting a serious gypsy curse. Before you can even conjure the name Shirley Jackson, young master Beaumont – faced with financial problems when the sheltered orphan naively gives away half of his inheritance to a sexy swindler – breaks his promise to dear, deceased Granny Beaumont and sets up shop in the accursed dwelling.

Reed proceeds to throw every haunted house cliché at his hopelessly clueless protagonist — creaking floorboards, opening windows, feelings of being watched, sudden drops in room temperature, levitating furniture, otherworldly laughter, and apparitions. There are ghostly nocturnal visits of the licentious variety to spice things up, as well as a hunky caretaker from a neighboring property who may or may not have something to do with the spookfest that Hunter’s life becomes soon after moving into Beaumont House.

In attempting to fashion Hunter as a compelling gay male version of the classic femme fatale, Reed misfires and ends up with a feeble momma’s boy character who acts more like one of the interchangeable orphan girls from a V.C. Andrews novel. Missed opportunities abound when supporting characters are introduced and developed nicely, only to be unceremoniously dismissed from the narrative early. Only the character of Michael Burt, the aforementioned caretaker and requisite hunk, has any hint of depth as a character, albeit only when Reed pulls back from painting him with broad Marlboro Man strokes.

Structurally, Reed knows his way around a tight-knit suspense tale. His pacing is spot-on 99% of the time (with a deduction of a percentage point for a vexing repetition of meals-that-make-themselves plot device used here) and the action moves along at a decent clip. The explosive finale possesses all of the expected pizzazz of a respectable supernatural thriller.

Reading A Demon Inside is like arriving at the same destination you’ve visited countless times over but approaching it from a slightly different route, and therein lies its ultimate appeal.  By all counts, there’s not a shred of innovation to be found in this seemingly by-the-numbers haunted house tale, yet somehow Reed makes it all work and keeps the reader turning the pages. That he can do this even when the material is mediocre is a testament to his skill as a writer. It’s that skill as a writer, though, that has this reviewer wanting more from Reed – something far edgier, something less sanitized, something less safe.

A Demon Inside is more homage than groundbreaking original, with the added appeal of letting all that repressed gay subtext at work in classics like Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House out to play in full view. Taken as a re-telling of the classic haunted house story, A Demon Inside definitely hits its target, even if it overshoots the bull’s-eye.

Purchase A Demon Inside by Rick R. Reed.

Posted on Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 03:00PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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