The Devil in Silver, by Victor Lavalle, is a book I found in the unlikeliest of places: the dollar store. Now, some of you may be going, “Oh Ellie, you didn’t grab a Dollar Tree book, did you? All of those are castoffs with no real value.” To which I reply, “Pooh pooh, some of these books are real gems lost to the tragedy of poor publicity and marketing.”
Now, there are some books that I find at the Dollar Tree that I absolutely love, and others are so-so. This one’s a mix of good and so-so. So…at least I only paid a dollar for this four hundred-plus page book.
Pepper finds himself in an insane asylum. Not because he is insane, but because he lives in a poor part of Queens where the cops don’t want to deal with him. So he’s thrust into a run down facility that’s understaffed and underfinanced, and where the patients are in a constant drug induced semi-coma. But something lurks in the walls–something with the body of a man and the head of a bison. And it’s out for blood.
This book is marketed as a horror, and while there are some horror elements, it’s more like a “day in the life” sort of book. The horror elements are so far between (as are any other semblence of plot) that the pacing suffers terribly. And that’s not to say that I need a horror/thriller to keep my interest. I’ve read a lot of the old classics: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Phantom of The Opera. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that a good literary horror story has great psychological elements, and that a “horror” can also focus on the human condition and be a great “thinker” novel. This novel tries to delve into the psychology of the human condition, but it is overbloated by about a hundred pages. If it had been trimmed down, the “shocking” bits would have been more poignant. As it was, though, as I was reading it I just got tired.
What’s good about this story? The characters are well-defined, and I felt like each one was unique. Not all of the “insane” characters felt insane, though. Which may be the point–maybe the author was trying to do a moral tale instead of a horror and was trying to point out that “insanity” and mental illness isn’t much worse than just a bunch of people on medication. However, this rang out as false. True, these people were so doped up on medication that they could barely walk straight, but people with mental illness have their quirks and tics–heck, all us “sane ones” have our own quirks and tics–and by about page 250 (out of 400), the patients had lost all of theirs. But, take away the fact that all of these patients (except Pepper) had been committed due to mental health issues, the different characters–Coffee, Dory, Loochie, and Pepper–are all well-developed and likeable.
I wish that this book had been tighter. There was a love interest/sex scene between Pepper and a Chinese woman Xiu that lasted all of two to three chapters smack dab after a major death, and then Xiu just…disappeared. It wouldn’t be as bad if there had been buildup, but it’s like Xiu didn’t even exist until after that other character died. And true, there are brief moments in the book where Pepper mentions Xiu and where he does some stuff to help Xiu after she leaves the insane asylum (it’s never a mental hospital, always an asylum), but the book could have cut out at least fifty pages just by dropping her–and it would have moved from action (character’s death) to consequence (guilt and other unforseen events) a lot faster without it. But that death and those consequences had far less impact because of this brief liason.
I was also disappointed in the end reveal of the monster. I won’t spoil it for those who end up reading this book, but let’s just say that things aren’t always as they seem. In fact, they just don’t make sense given the evidence, even if you try to blame drug-induced half-comas and hallucinations. The author was trying to go for how a mob mentality can warp our perceptions, but it fell flat due to other circumstances in the book. Not well done. Not at all.
To wrap things up: did I enjoy this book? Parts of it. But it was so long, and the ending so unsatisfying (except for a moment where Pepper gets a postcard saying “____ LIVES!”) that I’m not sure I’d recommend this book to anyone.
Now, a book that I found at the dollar store that I would actually recommend? The Watchers by Jon Steele (however, it’s so long since I’ve read it that I can’t give it a proper review. Look it up and decide for yourself).