The Devil Crept In – Ania Ahlborn

Short & Sweet: Aside from bloated exposition within the first half, The Devil Crept In is an enchanting horror read that relishes its presence in the darkness, refusing to answer all the questions you will inevitably have, even at the end. This is a story of terrible things seen – or unseen – and why denial can be the worst horror of them all.

Young Jude Brighton has been missing for three days, and while the search for him is in full swing in the small town of Deer Valley, Oregon, the locals are starting to lose hope. They’re well aware that the first forty-eight hours are critical and after that, the odds usually point to a worst-case scenario. And despite Stevie Clark’s youth, he knows that, too; he’s seen the cop shows. He knows what each ticking moment may mean for Jude, his cousin and best friend.
That, and there was that boy, Max Larsen…the one from years ago, found dead after also disappearing under mysterious circumstances. And then there were the animals: pets gone missing out of yards. For years, the residents of Deer Valley have murmured about these unsolved crimes…and that a killer may still be lurking around their quiet town. Now, fear is reborn—and for Stevie, who is determined to find out what really happened to Jude, the awful truth may be too horrifying to imagine.

Pages: 374
February 2017

Once, I had misunderstood the meaning of an “unreliable narrator”. It indicates a sense of deceit, as if the narrator themselves are purposely leading you down a winding path, where, say, a tree isn’t really a tree. A superficial belief, as it were. It wasn’t until The Devil Crept In did I understand what it truly meant, and the questions and doubt that could deepen a story when presented in such a fashion. Stevie, a ten year old in Oregon and the protagonist in this novel, is such a narrator, and Alhborn takes her time revealing his background, so things don’t seem off until much deeper in. The magic this creates permeates the entire book, and doesn’t let up even after the last pages are turned.

Denial is the name of the game here. Much like the river in Egypt, it courses through every facet of this book and within every character. Through it, we see the horrors that can manifest as a result, the devils that creep in from the shadows of purposeful ignorance. The decisions all the adults make from this narrative will infuriate you, and also serves to trick you.

Characters are muted but well-fleshed, giving a human element to each and every one; all are viewed through the lens of a young child, and his frustrations that no one was taking his cousin’s disappearance seriously. You will acutely feel that frustration, not only for Stevie, but also at the adults who adamantly refuse to acknowledge that something is wrong, that Stevie needs help – the type of help that only you, the reader, can decide as you close the last page.

I did dock a star as the first half bogged down with unnecessary detail – to the point where I began skipping paragraphs – but it tightened up after the twist in the middle, and continued on at a clipped pace, even as we switched between viewpoints. Every beat and scene propels the story forward in some form or fashion.
Unfortunately, I was also left with so many unanswered questions afterward. Not the type that make things ~spooky~ (What is really going on in the forest by Stevie’s house?), but genuine questions that still irritatingly float in the back of my mind when I recall this novel and how I felt reading it. Many possible threads of exploration – on the mystery in the woods, and otherwise – could’ve been expounded on, but it seemed as if the novel itself ran out of steam and dropped the threads where they lay.

Do I recommend this? If you take some time to get invested. Understand that Stevie’s disability will irritate you in the beginning, and the dropped threads of sidestory will nag at you, but ultimately, this is a good, middle-of-the-road horror that will have you do a double take at the forest, the trees, and the abandoned houses that may not be abandoned after all.

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