Ania Ahlborn pumps fresh blood into a familiar plot with The Devil Crept In. Small towns, unspeakable evil, and missing kids are plot staples that every horror author plays with at some time. But The Devil Crept In doesn’t feel like it’s running down a well-worn path. Instead, there’s just enough familiarity to coax you into a false sense of security. You’ll finish it with a sigh of satisfaction if you’ve been craving a classic type of horror read.
The main character is Stevie who is a ten-year-old boy with some form of mental illness. He is cognizant enough of his mental state to realize that he’s not normal. His word salad, hallucinations, etc, are all things that he deals with daily. He has no friends, his dad left because of it, and he’s pretty much ostracized in the town because he’s ‘the weird kid’. Basically, a fairly accurate representation of the isolation and struggles that someone with untreated mental illness goes through on a daily basis. While I do have some associations with adult schizophrenics and other people with mental illnesses, I have never talked with one suffering from echolalia or seen them deal with visual hallucinations. So, I say ‘fairly accurate’ without having specific backup experience, just to be clear.
So, needless to say, when the feces flies, Stevie isn’t exactly the most reliable witness. But he’s a curious, brave, and strong little boy who is determined to find out what has happened to his cousin/best friend Jude. What he finds would be enough to scare the dickens out of even the most mentally stable person. What he finds is on a level that would make even ‘normal’ kids be given the stink-eye. But Stevie, like all plucky kid heroes, doesn’t sit back and shut up. In The Devil Crept In, Stevie’s bravery bursts out. Stevie’s communication issues never make reading the story an issue, by the way.
The Devil Crept In is a disturbing, atmospheric novel that channels some old-school horror greatness. Two stories are told, with one starting several years back and leading up to present day. The switching back and forth is not excessive, and Ahlborn is careful about how much she reveals. There are characters to root for (sometimes even against your will) and well-placed action. Readers with kids may find a few of the scenes to be hard to handle, but it’s worth it to push through them.
Ania Ahlborn has already proven to be a talented horror writer. If she continues to deliver novels of the calibre we see in The Devil Crept In, she’ll be a force to be reckoned with in a few years.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley for review consideration.