The Devil Crept In / Ania Ahlborn
Saturday, May 20, 2017 at 11:59AM
Dark Scribe Magazine in Book Reviews

Gallery Books / February 2017
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

The missing child is a frequently used narrative spark in the domains of horror fiction and thrillers. In the hands of lesser writers, it runs the risk of cliché and cheap imitation. Luckily for readers, Ania Ahlborn is not one of those writers.

The Devil Crept In is the Polish-born dark scribe’s eighth novel, a straightforward tale of horror peppered with thriller elements that’s sure to please readers partial to either genre. The story delves right in, beginning with the disappearance of rebellious preteen Jude Brighton, cousin and best friend to the novel’s protagonist, ten-year-old Stevie Clark. Stevie is a gutsy and brilliant choice to be the main voice of Ahlborn’s novel; his verbal tics, clanging, and hallucinations indicating an undiagnosed schizophrenia make him both the quintessential unreliable narrator and a most sympathetic protagonist. He’s the ultimate outsider. More to Ahlborn’s credit is that she’s able to realistically portray young Stevie’s vocal outbursts and repetition without pulling the reader out of her engrossing story.

There are dual narratives running through The Devil Crept In – one present day, the other flashback – and a wonderful undertone of urban legend at work here that compliments the mood Ahlborn sets early on. To give away much more of the plot would be a disservice to the reader, especially since Ahlborn keeps her storytelling tight with no subplots to speak of. Ahlborn’s pacing is solid, yet the story unfolds slowly, which may surprise readers at the end when they realize that they’ve traveled 374 pages along a relatively straight-line continuum. Fortunately, the flashback storyline that provides the origin story for present day events, feels more action-oriented and compliments the slower burn of the main narrative thread.

What really elevates The Devil Crept In is the emotional resonance at its core. While the story appears to be about a boy and his exhaustive quest to find out what happened to his best friend, it really speaks more to the unbreakable bonds between mothers and sons, especially in the face of challenging disabilities – from mental and social disorders to birth defects (exaggerated to horrific levels as they may be here). Ahlborn lays her thematic substance in subtly so that it never clobbers readers over the head or detracts from the horror at hand; instead, there’s a delicate sense of maternal melancholy that saturates beautifully-written passages sandwiched between the more chilling plot turns. Thankfully, the trio of mother-son relationships at the center of the novel ably compensate for Ahlborn’s misfire with an abusive stepfather figure who’s more cardboard cutout than credible character.

Ahlborn is a writer of considerable skill and imagination – both of which are on fine display in The Devil Crept In. She maximizes her tried-and-true dark woods setting, infusing a palpable sense of supernatural dread. The novel is ripe with genuinely creepy, sometimes downright gory imagery, but it’s infused with an uncanny sense of coming-of-age and rites of passage, with scenes calling to mind King’s Pet Semetary and even the film Fright Night. She even manages to pack one wallop of a goosebumps-inducing twist into her very effective epilogue that will leave readers wanting more – the way all great novels should.

Purchase The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn.

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