‘Devil House,’ a Confident, Creepy Novel About a Wicked Unsolved Crime

As if in a goblin’s skillet, everything has been thoroughly cooked. In every sense of the word, the outcome is wicked. The kids are ecstatic, to the point of being positively Luciferian, about it all.

The landlord and a real estate developer show up one day. In Darnielle’s words, “You always notice how adults wreck everything as soon as they arrive on the scene,” no matter what age you are.

With an enormous sword, the two are brutally dispatched. Astonishingly, no one has been found guilty. Because this is pre-internet, the murders have the air of legend. Murals in the area have been described as having the appearance of “dead bodies, cryptograms in the graffiti, and the spectre of teenage satanic rites,” among other things.

‘Devil House,’ a Confident, Creepy Novel About a Wicked Unsolved Crime

Two decades or so after the murders, Chandler begins his reporting, in an attempt to gain some clarity from “the murky beginnings in which legend is formed,” He’s meticulous and devoted. eBay has become a haven for crime fetishists, and he spends hours perusing the listings.

Chandler tells the stories of these children. He is reunited with an old friend from his youth. The perspective has been shifted numerous times.

“The White Witch of Morro Bay,” a novel about a young schoolteacher who killed two students who broke into her apartment by stabbing one of them 37 times with an oyster knife, is one of Chandler’s earliest works. An emotional letter from the mother of a deceased boy’s family hits him right below the surface.

According to Stanley Elkin’s 1971 novel, “The Dick Gibson Show,” “by what inevitable degrees does bent become inclination, tendency, penchant, disposition, disposition fate?”

In “Devil House,” this is a reiteration of one of the central concerns. You’ll never know what you’re getting into until the very end. It has improved.

Devil House by John Darnielle Review – Mysteries and Rumours

At the outset of Gage Chandler’s Devil House, his editor suggests that he sell a house in the California city of Milpitas. After its brief run as a pornographic book and video business, the building was abandoned and eventually became the setting for a mysterious and maybe paranormal double homicide.

The fatal implement was a sword, and the year was 1987, at the height of the satanic scare, when devil worship was purportedly common and lurking in the grooves of every heavy metal record. If Gage were to move in, he could look into the killings and write his next novel at the same time.

American musician and writer John Darnielle uses this to establish the scene for his third novel. Like its predecessor, Universal Harvester, Devil House begins in the horror genre but quickly deviates into a critique of true crime and the impulses that drive it, a fragmented character study, and a metafictional puzzle, all with varying degrees of success. This final thread is the most engaging part of the story, placing the novel in an intriguing zone between Atonement and the Serial podcast.

Darnielle is at home in the shadows, where rumours can multiply like mushrooms, and where the truth is hard to come by. Devil House effectively illustrates the pre-internet dissemination of knowledge in the way that strange facts about the Milpitas murders accrue, especially in schoolyards: I’ve heard that the bodies were set on fire.

One guy, I heard, got doused in oil but managed to stay unharmed. Since my friend is a local, he witnessed the bodies on fire.

Are you kidding me? Honest to goodness. According to my brother, a woman who had to use her hands to go around since her right leg was twice as long as her left was among those housed there.

He also does a great job of creating a vivid sense of location.

While Universal Harvester painted a disturbing picture of the desolate cornfields of Iowa, Devil House transports us to a ghostly region of the Golden State. Redwood forests and vineyards have been replaced by the desolate spaces around freeway exits and behind suburban home doors, where domestic cruelty is hidden from view.

Gage’s investigation into the crimes is chronicled in the book, which entails him putting himself in the heads of a group of teenagers who, in the weeks leading up to the murders, had turned the abandoned porn shop into their own fantastical realm.

Gage unexpectedly shifts from the plain, doomy register of actual crime to something mock-medieval that portrays the kids’ shared dreamworld in these passages, and the language is at its most exhilarating as a result.

Devil House by John Darnielle Review – Mysteries and Rumours

Angela skipped out on her 7-Eleven shift one night and arrived home late.

She said to her parents that she had to ring up an entire high school football team for Slurpees at the last minute before closing.

This was completely false. At precisely eleven o’clock, she left her job and, in her mother’s Toyota, drove to Monster Adult X, where the keyholder let her in. And there she was at once bade fair welcome, which she reciprocated with cheer; and lo, the noble knights did then hold discussion in their secret glade deep inside the forest, far from the reach of stern government.

That was a fantastic chapter. My difficulties were elsewhere.

Devil House seems to ask, in part because of the book’s use of mediaeval flourishes (a risky move for a true crime novelist), can Gage Chandler write?

There’s evidence to imply that this isn’t the case, in the form of a rehashed scene in which the mothers of both victims of the White Witch murder answer their phones as they cook beef stew on the stove.

Another mother answers the phone while “a pot of beef stew simmering on the stove” appears a third time in Gage’s telling of the Devil House killings. It’s the sort of obviously made-up detail that certain forms of narrative nonfiction rely on to make a situation seem more authentic. The fact that Gage keeps saying it is indicative of his dishonesty.