Damn. That’s pretty much all I have to say when I run into a piece of fiction like this one. Damn.
There’s a point in every reader’s life where they believe they’ve experienced it all. I ran screaming past that point so long ago that I don’t think I’d ever be able to find it even if I retraced my steps with a map and detailed directions. But ask any reviewer in this genre… this sort of circumstance comes with the territory.
It began with the realization of the fact I made it through The Exorcist at a very young age, and The Amityville Horror while I sat alone in the dark (which makes more sense if you understand my fear of the dark).
I have been taken to some of the worst parts of every dark place an author could take me, have traveled through many incredibly depraved or terrifying books. I careened through Survivor by JF Gonzalez, and was pummeled by Wrath James White’s The Ressurrectionist without hardly batting an eyelash. I felt massive discomfort with Ketchum’s Off Season, and sweated through some incredibly horrible scenes with many other seasoned authors. Unfortunately, that kind of exposure eventually makes a reader jaded and tends to ruin the party for you. These are some fucked up reads, folks.
But this one? This The Devil Stood Up? I don’t care to ever read the first act of this book again.
It’s brutal, it’s mean, it’s nasty, but most of all – it’s unlike any of the aforementioned books in that it’s entirely possible and could very well happen in today’s society. Hell, I know for a fact that it has.
That’s what scares me the most. The fact that Christine Dougherty was able to channel my deepest fears and most secret pains into the first act of this novel is what caught me off guard, and… well… it just ripped me apart.
Could the Devil, Himself be our ultimate hero?
This is a brutally told story of how the Devil, after countless millennia of strictly doing God’s will of punishing sinners in Hell, decided to lay down a Judgement of his own.
Compelled by the horrific case of a young mother who murdered her child and the lawyer who gets her set free, the Devil comes to Earth seeking justice. Lesser Demons, Patron Saints, and seemingly, God, Himself, conspire against him and then, the biggest complication of all; he meets Kelly, and the Devil, Himself falls in love.
But is Kelly, herself more that she seems?
Now, I’m pretty sure this isn’t Dougherty’s first foray into dark fiction, but it sure as hell is my first introduction to her world. And honestly, I’m liking what I see so far. Her prose is tight and her story line is solid. The characters are all immense beings worthy of detailed analysis. But I’m not going to get into that. Not this time around, anyway. It’s the power in this story that grabbed me from the get-go, and it’s the oppressive nature of the subect matter coupled with the weight of the words that Dougherty chooses that really threw me for a loop.
Like I said before, I wasn’t ready for this. In all honesty, I was expecting a relatively hastily written novel by an upstart, but ended up being absolutely floored by someone who very obviously knows her craft. The beginning of this short novel reads like what I can only assume it feels like to have your heart ripped out. The description that Dougherty laces all over the page is brilliamtly paced, and offers no hiding places from the atrocity that is presented to the reader.
And that’s only the beginning.
The rest of the story winds on a fariytale type adventure with demons and baddies galore, showing the author’s lyrical prowess and her intimate knowledge of all things horror in biblical themes. While cultivating such an expansive and goal driven story, the author also establishes a great amount of personality for a character – the Devil – who is usually deemed to have one mission and one set of emotional/reactionary responses. Wherein most authors would take the ‘pure evil’ route, Dougherty succeeds in making this character much more complex and, in a rare twist, likeable. I mean, I always dig the Devil character, but this one is much more accessible and can be liked by a whole new slew of people. Her success in that area should be championed for its originality and, in my personal opinion, she should be lauded for taking a step outside of the box.
The Devil Stood Up is a very worthy venture into biblical, socio-political, and moral themes that leaves the reader not only beaten, but also fully entertained. As a relative newcomer to the horror genre, I think Dougherty shows a lot of promise, and I would definitely keep an eye on her future releases – especially if she takes as much care with her coming stories as she did crafting this one.
It’s not every day that a book can come creeping out of veritably nowhere and shake me to the core like this one did. I applaud the author for ‘taking it there’ when a lot of other folks in the genre won’t.