Last Updated on February 12, 2024
The end is nigh in The Death Doula, the chilling new horror book by Ali Seay. Marki Hartwell is the eponymous death doula, a young woman who has found her vocation as someone who helps the dying while they cross over to the other side. Marki is summoned by hospice caretakers to comfort patients during their last moments, especially those without any close friends or family members.
An occupation as morbid as death doula doesn’t lend itself to carefree dinner conversation. Marki’s girlfriend, Paula, can no longer stand this perpetual cloud of death casting a shadow over their relationship. Marki is devastated by the breakup but copes by throwing herself deeper into her work, bringing heartfelt care and compassion to each of her patients.
The main story of The Death Doula begins on a requisite dark and stormy night as Marki is called to guide a dying man, Franklin Singleton, into the great beyond. Franklin, or Lin for short, is in terrible condition, filthy and appearing much older than his seventy-eight years:
“Cloudy blue eyes rolled her way. He looked well past his reported seventy-eight years. He looked a hundred and eight, a thousand…he looked timeless and ancient.”
Although Lin warns Marki that she should leave his home to escape an unspeakable evil, it may already be too late for her:
“Not the devil, girl. He’s what waits under the devil’s bed. He’s what the devil has nightmares about. He’s the thing that reaches out for you when you are helpless, hopeless, and want to die. The thing that beckons you to jump off cliffs or run your wrist along the edge of a knife. He’s who grows fat with pain and hate and rage and bleakness.”
In addition to the present-day narrative, The Death Doula has flashback chapters for Lin to recount his backstory, including a deeply disturbed childhood with a father for whom “abusive” would be much too light of a word.
The pacing in The Death Doula is spot-on, with plenty of unexpected scares and nary a dull moment. Ali Seay’s crisp prose adeptly conveys the intensity of the story as it builds to its astonishing climax.
All in all, Ali Seay breathes new life into the familiar haunted house trope. The Death Doula is an expertly crafted tale of horror that left me guessing till the end. I am eager to read more from the very talented Ali Seay.