REVIEW: Devils Kill Devils by Johnny Compton

Devils Kill Devils is Johnny Compton’s sophomore horror novel, a southern Gothic brimming with vampirism and religious occultism. I thoroughly enjoyed Compton’s debut novel, The Spite House, and waited in eager anticipation to see what this talented new voice in horror would deliver next.

Devils Kill DevilsDevils Kill Devils opens on Sarita’s wedding night. She senses a third party in the room, a pale figure enshrouded in shadows, who brutally murders her new husband, Frank, no questions asked. The murderer? Sarita’s guardian angel, nicknamed Angelo:

“Angelo stood at the foot of the bed, dressed in black. Strands of his long, flaxen hair hung over his face. Through the thin curtain of hairs he met Frank’s gaze with an ash-hot stare.”

While the underlying reason for Frank’s murder is unclear, Angelo has saved Sarita’s life on at least four previous occasions. Devils Kill Devils alternates between the present-day narrative and flashbacks that provide the history of Sarita’s near-death encounters.

Sarita’s long history with Angelo began when she was nine years old and nearly drowned in the Gulf of Mexico while playing in the waves with her older brother. Sarita’s mother prayed to God for a miracle, and right on cue, Angelo appeared to drag her limp body from the water.

Sarita has little memory of this experience and is doubtful of Angelo’s existence, despite the strong devotion her mother places in him. Her skepticism, however, vanishes during subsequent encounters with her guardian angel, as recounted in the first part of Devils Kill Devils.

These opening chapters of Devils Kill Devils are absolutely brilliant in their setup and the restrained way that Johnny Compton builds up layers of intrigue and horror. However, the tone of the novel shifts drastically with the introduction of a new point-of-view character, Cela, known as the Godmaker. While the beginning of the novel focuses on Sarita in a very personal way, Cela’s entrance causes the scope of the novel to blow up in a convoluted disarray of plotlines involving vampires, religious occultism, and the Book of Tobit. The latter part of the novel often struggles to maintain coherence, making me wish for a return to the more restrained approach.

To conclude, I love the premise of Devils Kill Devils and had high hopes based on the excellent first part of the novel. Unfortunately, the story loses focus as it expands its scope to an unmanageable extent, which also compromises the emotional impact of the novel.

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John Mauro

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

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