* CONTAINS SPOILERS
Professor David Ullman knows a lot about demons, maybe a little too much. One day he is approached by a strange woman and offered an all expenses paid trip to Venice, Italy to observe a “phenomenon” for an unnamed benefactor. To cope with the sadness of learning his wife wants a divorce, the Professor decides to go for it and take Tess, his preteen daughter with him. The phenomenon the Professor observes once there shakes him to the core of his beliefs, but he has videotaped the event and has evidence that maybe demons do really exist. When Tess mysteriously “dies” shortly after the observation, the Professor is devastated and returns to New York. However, signs he believes are from Tess telling him she is still alive send him on a whirlwind journey that takes him across the country where he has run-ins with a mysterious hit man and dangerous shape shifters. He searches frantically for Tess whom he believes is being held captive by something he knows but cannot name, something evil and dark. It wants him to hand over the videotape, but doesn’t know the Professor won’t give up anything — not the video tape, not his soul and definitely not his daughter — without a fight.
Professor David Ullman really makes this story work for me because he’s totally normal. He’s funny and smart with not a weird quirk in sight. On the outside, he’s an average guy, a teacher, friend and loving father. On the inside are qualities like tenacity and fearlessness that may not have had a chance to see the light of day until he was forced in a corner by the loss of his daughter. I liked that he didn’t make dumb decisions, but remained rational in spite of all the strangeness going on.
Right away I liked the Professor’s best friend, O’Brien, because she was straightforward and a bit of a smart ass. I didn’t necessarily want her to have a romantic relationship with the Professor; I just wanted them to be together because they had chemistry. After awhile, I began to fear her role in the story was going to be restricted to phone buddy. I thought, “If she doesn’t go on that road trip, I don’t know about this book …” But I got my wish and I was right, they did make a great team.
You’re going to laugh at this one. Even though the Professor encounters various scary people, his daughter, Tess, gave me the creeps the most. She always seemed so eerily distant, ice cold and not-quite-right to me. In my imagination, I couldn’t help picturing her as one of Miss Peregrine’s children. When she was trapped by the unknown, I almost felt as if she belonged there.
Reading Paradise Lost is what led me to The Demonologist. Although the poem is merely a plot device in the story, to my delight it is quoted throughout the story. A statement by the Professor at the start of the book gave me some fresh food for thought about Adam and Eve eating fruit from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. Check out this quote:
“Loneliness … That is what this entire work really comes down to. Not good versus evil, not a campaign to ‘justify the ways of God to men.’ It is the most convincing case we have – more convincing than any in the Bible itself – that hell is real. Not as a fiery pit, not a place above or below but in us, a place in the mind. To know ourselves and, in turn to endure the perpetual reminder of our solitude.”
I didn’t love the ending because I felt it was too anti-climatic. The showdown between the Professor and the demon is powerful, but then floats off and fizzles. We certainly get closure and an explanation of what the Professor has done to get his daughter back, but after all the action in the story I guess I was expecting something bigger.
Is it scary? I would have to agree with comments by other reviewers that The Demonologist is more of a supernatural thriller than a horror story; however, there were a few truly freaky scenes that made my heart stop for a moment. Overall, I liked the book a lot and thought it was a character-driven, action-packed good versus evil story. It doesn’t get better than that. In the future, I wouldn’t hesitate to try another book by Andrew Pyper.