Rating: 5 out of 5
Alan Baxter’s Devouring Dark introduces us to Matt MacLeod, a man with a strange darkness inside of him. If he goes too long without letting it out, it hurts him. But when he lets it out it also hurts and debilitates him. If he directs the darkness into another person, it kills them, sucking the life from their bodies. He’s spent years finding and investigating terrible people who deserve to die, so that he can kill them with a clear conscience. Now someone saw him kill, and “the Boss,” Vince Stratton, is determined to turn him into a weapon by threatening his family. At the same time, Amy Cavendish, a hospice nurse, gently takes a darkness from the souls of the dying and stores it within her. When she finds someone who deserves a slow death, she equally gently releases the darkness into them, causing them to die of tumors within months. Soon Matt finds himself caught up in a world of mobsters, hit men, and corrupt cops. And at night, Amy sees to the needs of Vince’s father, Terry Stratton, while aware that he’ll be dying soon. Meanwhile, each time Amy uses her abilities, a mysterious dark figure gains solidity and menaces her.
The characters in this novel are wonderful. Amy and Matt make an unusual set of protagonists. Each of them has killed, though of course for only the best of reasons (or so they have decided). Corrupt cop Charlie Collins takes instructions and payments from just about every criminal enterprise in town, but he believes it’s warranted because it supposedly helps him concentrate on catching rapists and murderers who prey on everyday people. Because of the cast of characters, this story becomes a bit of a musing on why people kill, why people might feel they have to kill, whether evil means can be used to do good, and how they justify it to themselves, told within the framework of an unusual and creepy horror/thriller tale. (Without any preachiness or over-ruminating.)
Oh! Apropos of nothing, I love that the cop doesn’t have the stereotypical drinking problem. Instead, he has a cocaine problem (one that he doesn’t see as a problem), and that works very differently!
As always with Baxter books, the pacing is so on-point that you won’t even notice it. It’s a smooth-as-silk ride that builds up into wildness. The question of how our protagonists gained their mysterious “abilities” (curses?) gets some satisfaction, but not entirely, so it isn’t quite wrapped up in a bow. I thought we got just enough detail there, and it definitely changes some things.
All in all this is a great story of how cosmic horror can touch two small lives and spread outward from there.
Content note: briefly touches on the subject of child molestation and rape.