“THE BIG RED DEVIL”
by John Huber, 2015
This story follows two men. John Harker is a psychopath, tortured by demons all his life. When he falls into a coma, he's tortured by them for five long years. They change him, making them the instrument of their desires. But Harker plans to turn the tables on his tormentors.
The other man is Clint Bandosky, the most sympathetic of the doctors assigned to Harker's case. But he's also driven to study unique cases like that of Harker. And Harker's case is singularly unique, as the man awakes from a coma after five years, walks out the hospital, and goes on a quest to the Dakotas.
But after following the story of John and Clint, we're suddenly dumped into the stories of Gabrielle and a girl named Azrael for two chapters, without any apparent connection to the earlier story. It's a rather abrupt shift and although the two stories do eventually connect, it's not for a couple chapters. Less jarring would be to compact this material into a single chapter ending with a connection to the primary story.
The cops are idiots. All they have to do is call the local hospital and they would discover that Blair didn't get her broken leg fixed there. That would send them back immediately, asking questions.
On occasion, the writing can be a tad confusing, as Huber attempts to invoke powerful images and similes, but doesn't quite make things clear. But that's forgiven. Given Huber's goals, trying to take the reader to new, dark places of the mind and soul, I can forgive one or two missteps.
Only a few times do we come across actual errors, like, “He does he know who we are, Clinty?!” instead of, “How does he know who we are, Clinty?!” Or repeatedly using the word “drug” instead of “dragged”.
But if I have a few quibbles, rest assured that is all they are. They do not stop Huber's writing from grabbing the reader by the throat and pulling him through the story with an intensity rarely seen. This is a very good, very intense book. Huber has given a definite cadence, urgency, and intimacy to Harker's plight and the plights of his victims. Even when the language becomes quirky and awkward, it's for a purpose. And this is his first novel! And it begins with a preface all but apologizing for what will follow!
Consider this passage: “The darkest version of us always seems the strongest, and the power is mesmerizing. It’s incredible what people can accomplish with a heart of wickedness. You look into that darkness so much, and you start to see the abomination’s face staring back. The more you look at it, the less you want to run, the more you realize that that version might be the best face you own. You start to see the demented beauty your beast holds, the beautiful horror.”
Or: “I couldn’t shake the thought of those eyes. John’s pupils were tattooed to the insides of mine. They were always there, eyes on the inside and out, staring back. John Harker owned me now.”
This is some powerful imagery, with powerful insights.
Be warned, some of the material in “The Big Red Devil” is extremely brutal. There is violence, torture, and mutilation, much of it male-on-female. When you think it can't get worse it does. The mayhem is relentless in places. For like 200 pages straight. But it is not without a purpose, both for the characters and for the story. Only slightly behind John's sadistic evil is Clint's. Clint is the devil we know versus John's devil we don't. Even Clint's girlfriend, Blair, has an evil within her, in that she accepts and desires Clint's brutality towards her.
Huber's book is not just about what happens, a series of events told in something like chronology. This is a story that goes into some dark places of the human mind and soul, and shows what's hidden there. The real monsters are not demons. They are the humanity inside us all.
Don't look for the traditional hero or villain here, or even the traditional victim. You won't find them. “The Big Red Devil” is not a pleasant read but a powerful train ride through the bowels of Hell—the Hell we make of ourselves.
Still, towards the end, in the Third Act if you will, a new and important character is introduced, the preacher Marshall Levels. He comes to town to save the people from the horror brought about by John Harker.
I find interesting parallels between John Harker and Marshall Levels. Both are charismatic leaders, religiously-based. Each hopes to fulfill something of a prophecy, either Biblical or out of a coma. If Harker is a villain, Levels comes up short as a hero.
Not many readers will find this a fun read. If they do, I'm not sure I want to meet them. But it's certainly a powerful story and well told. Huber has a great deal of invective against organized religion. And yet, the Devil, even the Big Red Devil, is not the opposite of religion. Praising the Devil is just another kind of religion. And it's a schizophrenic religion because one can not have a rebellious Devil without first having a God from which to rebel. Likewise, the Christian God requires a devil to spread sin so that mankind can be redeemed from sin. Christianity and Satanism are two sides of the same coin.
OK, off my soapbox. “The Big Red Devil” is an impressive first book from John Huber. I enthusiastically look forward to reading more of his work. His subject may not be pleasant but his handling of it is sublime.