One of the most looming things in the lives of all living is death. Many see death as a darkness that will inevitably come and destroy them. Poetry, plays, novels, treatises, art and more have all been created about the matter. Rarely, though, have I seen a piece of dark supernatural thriller examine the matter of death and darkness in the way that Alan Baxter’s Devouring Dark managed to do. Of course, rarely do I see contemporary novels of any sort reference Shakespeare and the craziness of a London pub in the same chapter.
Devouring Dark follows Matt McCloud, a man who has darkness inside him doing its very best to eat him alive. He can assuage this effect by touching others and spreading the darkness on to them; it eats them and he can live. Matt has been using this particular talent of his by hunting down criminals of various sorts and acting as a supernatural vigilante. Unfortunately for him, he is seen. This leads to his entanglement with a criminal enterprise of the darkest sorts. Matt must fight both the darkness within and without if he is going to survive this particular situation. Only his wits, his friends, and a mysterious woman with a similar darkness are able to help him. Will the darkness, and thusly, death win?
If the story itself doesn’t grab you—though it is definitely one of the more creative stories I have read in a bit—then the writing itself will. This piece is an intriguing conglomeration of musings on the various forms that darkness can take, be it through a character’s thoughts, the casual mention of Hamlet by a man dying, even the situations themselves. However, this is no piece of pure philosophy; this is a thriller mixed with elements of noir, with the according danger to the character’s world, the desperate race to save things, the need to solve a crime or defeat that crime, and all the according pieces that are so enthralling to us lovers of mysterious happenings. The sequence of events is never too much to follow, nor are the various character interactions unlikely or unbelievable. Everything flows together quite nicely and I was kept intrigued until the very end.
As for the characters, they were extremely well done. The depth of each primary character, including the villainous or slightly-questionable ones, was incredibly well managed. Matt, despite his dangerous and illegal hobby of going after and killing criminal elements, was likeable and sympathetic. Victor was dislikable and sympathetic in much the same way, because of the way his empire functioned and the perhaps normal business of running a pub. Amy Cavendish was, though, my favourite of the array of characters because she was eminently more normal than all the others; she may have had a similar dangerous and illegal hobby as Matt, but seemed so much more cheerful about the matter.
Be forewarned, though, this book is definitely on the darker side of the supernatural/thriller realm. A lot of the struggles that the characters, protagonist or antagonist, face are definitely ones that force an examination of the darker side of things. There are even a few situations where people die in quite gruesome ways. Many reviewers have said that this book combines horror elements as well as the elements one would expect in supernatural thriller fiction. Now, I may be a bit dark in my own judgements, but I would say that this book did not quite fall into the horror category for me. (However, I did some research and discovered that many of the books I considered gothic, dark, or even just a bit intense are considered horror. Frankenstein, Dracula, many of the Edgar Allan Poe pieces [these I did generally classify as horror, but not all] are in the horror genre. Which means that I could be completely wrong in my genre identification.) I would not necessarily call this piece gory or spectacularly violent; it does not revel in or describe exclusively, violence or violent situations. But it is definitely dark, requiring a person to examine their own relationship with the darkness residing within, as well as their perception of death. For me, though, there was missing that extra edge of psychological manipulation that I expected from a horror piece.
This darkness does not, though, diminish my opinion of this book in any way. I would say that overwhelmingly, the writing was excellently done. Never once was I dragged from the story due to an unlikely situation or misspelt words. The story itself pulled me through, desperate to find out what the characters were going to do in order to extricate themselves from the pretty terrible situations in which they found themselves. The characters were interesting and sympathetic. And the ending… well, let’s just say that it made perfect sense and was both interesting and satisfying in a slightly death-y sort of way.
Anyways, I would have to say that Devouring Dark most definitely made it onto my list of best books for the 2020 reading year. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in a bit of supernatural thriller or a delving into the human psyche. Settle in, though, because it is a wild ride.