This is John Darnielle's third novel, and, though I think Wolf in White Van and Universal Harvester are powerful books, it is my favorite. Here Darnielle's narrator is a true crime writer who has a new project: to move into a recently renovated home that was once the scene of a grisly 1980s murder--Devil House. I'm not sure how Darnielle makes me so interested in reading about this man moving to town, starting his research, etc., but I loved how this book started. And oh my how it goes from there.
This is not a horror novel. At least, not in the typical sense. Here is a man who decides early on that he is not going to write the book he is there to write.
So what follows? An investigation into the past crimes he wrote about. A little bit about the people allegedly involved in the crime at devil house. And a wonderful exploration of what writing and reading these stories means.
I didn’t see this one coming. I wouldn’t call this a horror novel; it’s more of fictional true-crime, but it’s also way more.
A true-crime author moves into a house where a murder occurred so he can get close to the crime. As we learn about his process, we get a deconstruction of true-crime; what it’s like for the subjects of these stories and the people that write them.
I was unexpectedly moved by this novel. It’s not easy to explain and even harder to get into without spoiling anything. One of the things that I really enjoy is when authors play with formatting in interesting ways and the way everything comes together is just…perfect. There’s a section in the middle that I didn’t get, though I’m sure some readers will. It didn’t affect how well their rest of the book worked for me. Overall, I loved it.
John Darnielle, of the critically-adored Mountain Goats, is a man of many tricks. You can tell in his writing that he has a good sense of the place in which is writing.
But that is where the positives end.
This book is failed by mismarketing. Devil House is not a work of horror. It may be difficult to pigeonhole it in to any genre. It is more crime fiction than literary fiction, but less crime fiction than actual crime fiction.
With all that being said, the result is lackluster and without direction at best. He is still a writer to watch, but possibly only with a better executed story.
John Darnielle does it again. I am a huge fan of everything he does and, as my most anticipated book of 2022, this did not disappoint. Darnielle's take on True Crime is refreshing and rather than a horror/thriller story that this looks like based on the cover, Devil House becomes a thoughtful meditation on the nature of truth verses sensationalism. Devil House offers commentary on a culture that commodifies crime and turns that into entertainment.
I think the biggest mistake of this book is with the marketing. Everyone I've talked to thinks this is a horror novel. It looks like a horror novel and I've seen it branded as a horror novel. And I think if you're familiar with Darnielle's work it will come as no surprise that he's always going to take a concept and a genre and turn it on it's head.
'Devil House' by John Darnielle is a novel about a true crime writer trying to write his new book.
Gage Chandler is an author with one successful book along with a movie adaptation. Now he is writing about some grisly murders in Milipitas in the 1980s. While he pieces the murders together, the story takes some twists and turns as Gage questions who he is.
It's a well written book, but it does meander. I did like it when it was all done, but I did wonder what it was all about along the way.
One of the most original and thought-provoking books I have read this year in its use of metafiction to explore the morally gray genre of true crime - the mirror effect in its 7 parts was genius. Also one of the best covers of the year! Full thoughts on YouTube: https://youtu.be/1OewIAPzsOw
If you are a fan of the tv show "Ghost Adventure", then you will like this book!
It's very unique plot and I was immediately drawn to the story from the first page.
It has really haunting vibes and also a mix of like reality tv show vibe.
I picked this up via audio and I am pretty glad that I did.
This is a meandering thought process/tale of a 'true crime' writer. It was hard to nail down any sort of timeline or thread in these pages. There was an entire section written in old English prose that seemed to have little to no tie into the rest of the novel.
While listening to it made it easy to pick and chose what I was paying attention to, in essence skimming, I found myself re listening to parts thinking that I had missed something that would make the following 10 minuets of audio make some sense. More often than not, the re listen did not help at all.
While I did not hate this book I can't say that I will be picking up anything by Darnielle anytime soon.
This book was provided to me via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This book absolutely knocked the wind out of me. I've enjoyed Darnielle's previous novels, but this one was phenomenal. Unfortunately, I think the marketing of it as a horror book created certain expectations that not all readers will feel were met. However, Devil House was everything I've ever wanted, and I'm genuinely upset I didn't write it. It's evocative of the story of James Dallas Egbert III, or at least what books like The Dungeon Master would like us to believe that story was. The fantastical elements—especially that one chapter, you know the one—were perfect and otherworldly in much the same way as Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures. Listen—I received the digital ARC, then bought the hardback, and I'm heading out to buy the paperback later today so I can annotate it. John Darnielle became a literary demigod to me with this one.
This is not horror. It's about a true crime writer trying to tell the story of murders in an abandoned porn store that some how got the name devil house. It's more a social commentary about the satanic panic of the 80s and 90s. The book was actually decent but I felt misled.
I didn’t really think there was a plot. Just a very informative story telling. I really wanted to love this one.
The first review I read of Devil House said, "It's never the book you think it is." And I'm not sure I can sum it up any better. I was expecting a thriller about a house that was the setting for a murder during the 'Satanic panic' of the '80's. What I got was a thoughtful study of the nature of truth and fiction and story and storytellers, and how all of these threads combine in any narrative to produce a pinhole version of a much larger picture that none of us can claim to see clearly. Such is the nature of any good book, which, if you dig deep enough, ends up serving a larger purpose to both writer and reader. And Devil House is definitely a good book.
The Devil House by John Danielle. I was instantly grabbed the cover alone. Yes I am a cover lover. Just is just beautiful art. The story was a refreshing for me. He wrote like a writer who is not a fan of horror but knows what is horror. If that makes sense. Definitely worth checking out if you want a not normal "horror" book.
Horror/thrillers are my favorite genre, but for whatever reason this book left me wanting more. Something about this story just left me confused and not really feeling the “feelings” I want to feel when reading from this genre. I may try again from this author if the next book seems up my alley.
A strange, curious book filled with riddles and layers. I have enjoyed John Darnielle's writing and while this subject matter wasn't my favorite, I enjoyed the exploration of a city, it's history, and some memorable characters.
Every town has an urban legend. A mystery or a murder that has captivated the minds of the locals and passed into lore. Gage Chandler just happened to turn his town's tale into a bestseller. A local teacher violently killed two of her students during an attempted burglary and was caught while taking their dismembered bodies to the beach in an attempt to dump them in the ocean. The White Witch of Morro Bay made a name for Gage and he has been looking for his followup project ever since. And then he hear's about "The Devil House." The house is in Milpitas, California, which is why no one has heard about it. The town became infamous for a grisly crime that happened in 1981 that ended up serving as inspiration for the movie River's Edge. The locals did not like the national attention. So when another murder happened with satanic overtones they hushed it up. "The Devil House" just happens to be up for sale. So not only could Gage write his next bestseller about the case he could write it at the scene of the crime. This PR stunt alone could generate huge sales. So Gage moves into "The Devil House." The home has been through many changes between when it was first built and it's infamy. But during the crime it was an abandoned store that sold pornography with booths in the back to watch videos. The "Monster Adult X" sign was still on the roof of the building when some teens moved in and decided to redecorate it as their clubhouse. The teens got very territorial and when the owner one day showed up with a potential buyer the interlopers were brutally murdered with a sword. But as expected Gage finds the locals aren't at all receptive to his arrival in their town. They don't want to talk about the murder, and they really don't want to talk about Derrick and Seth, the two kids who are the most likely culprits. Because that's another aspect of this case that is curious, no one was ever caught and charged with the murders. So Gage does what he does best. He immerses himself in the crime. He buys crime scene pictures off eBay and takes the interior of the house back to what it looked like when the murders happened. He becomes so entrenched that he can't be sure if he's writing a book now or living it.
As most reviewers with any sense have pointed out, this book is a bait and switch. The cover, the hype, everything about this book screams horror, and yet what it is isn't really clear even after you read it, but one thing is clear, it's not horror. Devil House is perhaps the sloppiest manuscript I have ever read. I am not even going to deign to call it a book because it needed several more passes to make it even legible and omit severe chronological issues, such as the constantly shifting date of the two murders at "The Devil House." The writing is beyond amateurish. In fact I take back manuscript and shall call this word salad. And seriously, don't get me started on the fake ye olde english that pops up in the "Song of Gorbonian" section. It's some of the worst writing I've ever read. This word salad has the pretensions to greatness, and instead comes off as a preposterous waste of time. As for the second person narration? Well, firstly, second person narration should be used sparingly, not for hundreds of pages, but what's more is that it isn't really second person narration, it's first person masquerading as second person wherein it's really the author talking to the murderess. I mean, what the fuck man? Really!?! You want to go there? You think you're Joe Goldberg? Joe Goldberg knows literature and he'd kill you for the crimes against it you've committed. But what's the worst sin in this book is everything is purposefully obfuscated and elliptical and talks around the subject in some attempt to make a statement on what is truth, what is really going on here, and in the end, it doesn't matter. Because, huge spoiler here, Gage Chandler has made it all up. There were no teenagers, there was no Satanic Panic, it's all BS in an attempt to what, write a book? To reclaim fame? To claw his way out of the insanity he'd driven himself to? Seriously, the ending negates the whole book, the whole story of "The Devil House." I mean, the whole "book" is so badly written and self-aware there was no way it could have clawed it's way back out of the grave it had dug to make me actually like it. But I was impressed that it made me hate it even more.
I chose this as most anticipated 2022 book for Book Riot coverage. It did not disappoint! Thanks for being so great, John.
This book just did not work for me. I have tried several times to pick it up. Perhaps I am not into the haunted house trope as much as I thought, because the set up just could not pull me in. Writing was quite good though.
I'm going to be completely honest, but this one was DNF...I feel like there was way too much involved that wasn't necessary and was completely bored with it. To me, it was definitely hard to even tell at the beginning what the storyline was at all.
Horror (sort of?) fiction about true crime (sort of?), told in Darnielle's extremely literary style. The novel is divided into several different parts, from different perspectives and in different times and places. First we have Gage Chandler, successful true crime writer, whose agent has convinced him to take on the story of several teenagers squatting in an abandoned porn store who murder the real estate agent who stumbles upon them. This happened in the 1980s, and the graffiti the teens left behind quickly turned the whole thing into a Satanic panic case. Luckily enough, the very porn store where this happened has been renovated into a nice but bland house, and Chandler decides to buy it and live there while doing his research.
Another thread focuses on those teens, particularly Derek, a high school senior who's just a bit smarter and more likely to go places than his friends, and the way those tensions play out as college comes closer and closer.
Another thread tells the story of "The White Witch of Morro Bay", Chandler's first book and the story he had the closest thing to personal stake in. A teacher accidentally murders two of her students in self-defense when they break into her apartment; her attempts to hide the bodies go to a gruesome place, which gives rise to the urban legend that she was some sort of seductress or witch, a story that Chandler grows up with on the local playgrounds.
Another thread consists of a long letter sent to Chandler by the mother of one of the two boys murdered by the White Witch; whereas the earlier section gave the sympathy and focus to her, here it switches to the dead boy.
There's also a short section that consists of a vaguely King Arthurish story, complete with faux-Malory spelling. I'm honestly not sure how this fits into the rest of the book, except that maybe it's the mythology behind the teens' graffiti, but I'm not sure of that interpretation.
And then there's a twist at the end (sort of?) that seems to cast doubt on the truth of some of what has already happened. I was honestly left mostly confused by that element – I'm genuinely not sure what readers are supposed to take away from it. I wish there was some sort of explainer on the internet for this book, or at least the ending, because I feel like I wasn't smart enough to get it.
On the plus side, I liked Devil House much better than the only other Darnielle I've read, Universal Harvester. Possibly because this one is genuinely better, but most likely because I calibrated my expectations after being disappointed once. I'm not really a fan of the sort of literary novels that leave me longing for explainers, though I love Darnielle's music enough that I keep subjecting myself to his books. At least the writing is lovely, even if I didn't always understand what it meant.