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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


The Right Hand of Evil

By John Saul
Ballantine Books, 427 pp, 1999

You may recall that my last book review dealt with a Christian topic, and my last review of a novel was also Christian-oriented. So I decided to go the opposite direction with an offering by horror novelist John Saul.

I last read a Saul book about fifteen or twenty years ago. Having read The Right Hand of Evil, I can see why I waited so long.

The brief plot: After a crazy old aunt dies, the Conway family moves into the family home that she had left to them. The house has been abandoned for years and is in horrible shape, but Ted Conway, an unemployed hotel manager, thinks he can fix it up into a hotel. But the townspeople, led by a priest, aren't so enthusiastic. In fact, they're not happy that the Conways are there at all, because bad things happen in that house and the town when Conways (especially male Conways) live there.  

Ted's wife Janet is about to leave with the kids because Ted is a boozer, and after ten or fifteen years of this, she's finally had enough. But she stays after she is convinced that Ted has changed and won't drink again (he's changed, all right, but not in a good way). 

Twin siblings Jared and Kim Conway are 15 and attending and hating their new private school. They have what they call a Twin Thing, a mental connection that allows them to sense when the other is near or in harm. But something also changes in Jared, and he turns into one mean SOB, and Kim no longer senses him with the Twin Thing - it is officially inoperative. But she does have crazy dreams about blood and murder and sex and so forth. But are they really dreams? 

Molly Conway is a toddler whose sole function in the book is to act like a human sacrifice.

Naturally, Saul throws in a sordid history of Conways going back to the 1800s or so, reveals the source of the evil that haunts them, throws in a few unnecessary minor characters, and produces a clichéd, predictable, run-of-the-mill horror novel.

The book just isn't very good. For example, Saul offers no subtleties - he gives away any possible symbolism, just to make sure we dim-witted readers spot his brilliance. For example, just when Ted and Janet's marriage is frayed and about to break apart, they move into a frayed and breaking apart house, which Ted is determined to fix up (if he can stay away from the bottle). An obvious parallel here, but Saul makes sure we don't miss it.

The writing is stale and boring. The author leaves his imprint everywhere, by shifting point of view in the middle of scenes and throwing in little asides and foreshadowing sentences. Saul needs to get out of the way and let the characters do their thing.

I am very happy I bought this at a used bookstore for half price.

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