Review: Devil House by John Darnielle

cover of Devil HouseDevil House by John Darnielle
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (January 2022)
416 pages; $20.16 hardcover; $14.99 e-book
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

Diving into John Darnielle’s Devil House is akin to entering a hedge maze: there are twists and turns ahead, and a few dead ends, and there will be times where you feel a little lost, but for the most part it’s a worthy journey.

Gage is a true crime writer, still riding the rapidly-cresting wave of his one big success — a book about a double murder that spawned a movie. He’s found a chance at repeating that success by chronicling a double murder that took place at the height of the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s, and he jumps in, utilizing his uniquely immersive technique to bring the story to life.

Darnielle presents the story in layers. We get access to Gage’s account of the first double murder and its aftermath; we get a peek at the events he’s currently investigating; and we get to dive deep into his process. Along the way, Darnielle ruminates (through Gage) on the power of telling stories, and on the responsibility that comes with telling other people’s stories.

There’s a line from early in the book that talks about there being ample space in the brain for several worlds to occupy. Darnielle attempts to cram several stories into the pages of Devil House, and while these mostly dovetail together nicely, there may not be quite enough space in these pages for all these worlds to occupy. A particular speed bump for me was a section about halfway through that is written in an Olde-World English style, complete with a curlicue font to match. It took me right out of the story, and it was somewhat of a grind to get back into it (although I eventually did).

That aside, Devil House largely fulfills its ambitious scope. It’s an entertaining and thought-provoking book that simultaneously celebrates and skewers the true crime genre. Darnielle’s writing is engaging, piercing, sometimes challenging and often beautiful. Devil House is a worthy, rewarding read.

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