Steve Emmett’s debut novel Diavolino reawakens ancient terrors in the small Italian town of Poggio del Lago and the accompanying island, our titular Diavolino, in minute detail. Emmett takes painstaking care with architectural and regional descriptions to bring this world to life with effortless ease. But this should come as no surprise considering Emmett’s background in both architecture and real estate, the latter specifically related to Italian country homes. His experiences with those two particular professions lend themselves way to the believability he is able to bring to the story which is further enhanced most of all by his scrupulousness. After all, it’s true what they say; the Devil is in the details. And in the case of Diavolino, this takes on a quite literal meaning.
Paradise is just one step from Hell.
The chance to build a dream home on a private island in Italy’s most beautiful lake offers architect Tom Lupton the fresh start he’s been yearning for. But when he arrives with his family on Diavolino, he finds the terrified locals dead set against his arrival. The island, whose very existence has been shrouded in secrecy for half a millennium, has a dark history that no one cares to remember, and as their opposition to Tom grows, so grows a brooding evil that will lead them to the very doors of hell…
Emmett exhibits exceptional writing in this debut novel. He is thoroughly descriptive, at times taking risks using quirky and less conventional phrasing which gives Diavolino a uniquely Emmett signature. Glowing mountain tops are illustrated more accurately and memorably with a distinctive visual like this: “… the mountain was lit by an eerie glow, as if cast by a clutch of hidden braziers.” Emmett’s writing flows smoothly and while he employs peculiar language at times, it is never confusing or awkward, but successful in pulling the reader into his world.
Diavolino relies heavily in the first half on slow, spooky atmosphere building so readers who prefer that style over a fast-pace action narrative will have their tastes sated here. Readers with a shorter attention span, who crave plots that move at break-neck speed, may find the story to move a little slow at times. However, although the narrative lulls a bit here and there Emmett makes up for it with bursts of graphic, disturbing violence that will keep the anxious readers alert. These more perverse excerpts compliment his usually delicate language. In one such entry, we are treated to a hellishly macabre scene. “There was blood, flesh, and shit everywhere.” The sick character relaying this scene “began to pace back and forth, holding his hands before him to hide his growing erection.” These rare indulgences in the blood and guts of horror make them all the more impactful since Emmett uses them sparingly. Despite being frugal in gore, once introduced it is never clunky or incongruous with the flow. And when there is blood letting, Emmett takes it to the extreme.
Diavolino was published earlier this year by Etopia Press, but this dish is best served in the chilly October night amid the glow of your haunting pumpkins. This story is an unnerving trip through hell by way of Italy’s Lake Trasimeno with a bone-chilling plot that will spook readers and turn their stomachs at times too. I would recommend this to the more patient readers as some used to a more fast-paced plot could get distracted. Still, this is a promising first entry for Emmett, so I would encourage everyone to visit his website, http://chukkienator.blogspot.com/, and check out the free excerpts for yourself. Based on Emmett’s first novel, this is definitely a new talent to keep an eye on!