“The Demonologist” by Andrew Pyper is a book that I picked up on a whim. It truly was one of those moments when I judged a book by its cover alone. It looked interesting and a quote on the front from Gillian Flynn said it was “Smart, thrilling, and utterly unnerving.” I determined that it was something that had a very good chance of holding my interest so I commenced buying the book with just the faintest idea of what it was about. I am so glad that it caught my eye.
“The Demonologist” focuses around David Ullman who is a professor at Columbia University that specializes in Milton’s Paradise Lost. He is a man whose career is focused on an epic poem about Satan and yet doesn’t believe in anything himself. Then one day a thin woman approaches him. She proposes a job, provides minimal details, and offers a large amount of money. His expertise is required in Venice. He almost doesn’t go, but at the last minute decides it might be fun to get away, just him and his daughter Tess. This proves to be a dangerous mistake.
Ullman goes to Venice with Tess. He leaves her at their hotel and goes to take care of the job. He wanders through the streets trying to take care of what he was hired to do. After a lot of confusing directions, he eventually ends up in a room where he meets a man who has been possessed and he records the whole thing on camera. The confrontation with the demon leaves him confused and shaky. “All at once I’m doubled over, retching onto the bricks. An ache in my bones, angry and unforeseen. It bears a similarity to every other flu I’ve ever had, though there’s something distinct about it in addition to its suddenness. The nearest I can come to describing it is that it’s not physiological, not an illness at all, but a thought. The infection of a virulent idea.” (The Demonologist, pg 63). When he recovers, he knows something is wrong and that Tess is in danger. He returns to the hotel and tries to flee Venice as quickly as possible. That’s when the demons take his daughter. Everyone is convinced that she is dead, but David knows that there is still hope. He has to follow clues from Paradise Lost in order to find her or risk losing her forever to a fate worse than death.
The story shows just how far a father would go to get his daughter back. His love for her is absolute, even though he is a man who struggles to experience happiness in his life; his daughter is the one aspect of his life that makes sense to him. You can see this over and over again in the book. At one point he is looking at a picture of the two of them at the beach. “The pictures shows the pleasure in our being together in the sunshine, on vacation. But it also shows the joy in taking on a task with someone you love, even if that task is too great to be achieved.” (The Demonologist, pg 93)
One thing that I really enjoyed about David Ullman was how different he was from most protagonists. He is a man who has always struggled to feel normal. When we first meet him and the more we get to know him it seems like he suffers from a sort of undiagnosed depression. It was interesting reading about his difficulties connecting with other people and at the same time, his unstoppable drive to save his daughter. I thought that the way he describes having his daughter taken away from him was very well done. It is obvious that Pyper is a father himself. “Missing someone feels like hunger. An insatiable emptiness right at the core of yourself. If I linger here, thinking about her, it will swallow me up.” (The Demonologist, pg 123).
Would I recommend this book? Yes, it was a thrilling read and it was very different from what I had initially expected. I found Andrew Pyper’s writing to be addictive. I also enjoyed the fact that the book was different in general. It focuses on a character that doesn’t believe in anything who is then suddenly confronted with demons in a way that he can’t ignore. It is a crisis of faith for a man who has never believed. It was a fascinating read and I look forward to reading more of Pyper’s work.