Thursday 7 May 2015

Book Review: Dave Zeltserman – 'The Boy Who Killed Demons'

'The Boy Who Killed Demons'

Being a fifteen year old boy is as insane and awkward enough without the ability to see some people for what they are... demons. And that's the cross that Henry Ludlow, the protagonist of Dave Zeltserman's new novel 'The Boy Who Killed Demons' has to bare. And of course we're not talking demons in the figurative sense but actual grotesque hell spawn walking the earth and hiding in human society, preying on mankind. On top of trying to fit in at school and keep his parents unaware, Henry has to figure out a way to combat the demonic hordes around him and keep his sanity... and life intact.

Zelterserman has ten horror and crime novels to his name, including the American Library Association short-listed 'The Caretaker of Lorne Field' and 'A Killer's Essence' and 'The Boy Who Killed Demons' calls on his wealth of experience. Written in a first person / diary format that recalls gothic horror classics 'Frankenstein', 'Dracula', and the works of H.P. Lovecraft mixed with a hefty dose of film/TV references such as 'The Live' and 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer', Seltzer takes the extraordinary and makes it tangible. The book maybe marketed as a novel for young adults, but this is a genuinely pleasurable page turned that plays with horror, mystery and humour in equal measures.

The writing style of the lead protagonist may be somewhat too meticulous for the average fifteen year old, but his occult studies and fervent crusade gives him the air of a young baron Frankenstein. Henry may not be a genius, but he is certainly of above average intelligence and obsessive. He evolves as the storyline does, wrestles with moral dilemmas, doubts and misgivings, but remains steadfast in his mission. But most importantly he comes across as a well-rounded if slightly disturbed fifteen year old would.

For a book about killing demons, there isn't much overt use of horror conventions, nor is there much in the way of graphic violence. The situations are sometimes a little too absurd to be plausible, and there a number of interesting directions the plot could have gone but failed to take advantage of. But it's main strength is in it's use of mystery. It keeps you guessing and it's lean prose, fast, dynamic pace and short chapters/diary entries keep you turning the pages. This human feel to the character creates a lot of genuinely heart-wrenching moments as he opens up to the reader at the expense of his personal relationships.

The book doesn't really shake-up the conventions of the genre, nor is it a particularly ground-breaking premise. But it is executed well enough as Zeltserman, through the character of Henry, creates a disturbing reality set against a seemingly innocuous backdrop of middle class suburbia. Henry can see it for what it really is, and this forces him to take on the role of the outsider to the detriment of his own happiness which makes him easy to identify and empathise with.

The book may not appeal to hardened horror fans. But for younger readers or those new to the genre, 'The Boy Who Killed Demons' is a safe bet for a good, compelling read that is easy to pick up and hard to put down.

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