Andrew Pyper has built a successful career writing hauntingly suspenseful supernatural thrillers. He takes another trip to the dark side with his eighth novel, this time focusing on the hope and horror within everyday existence – and the postmortem consequences of that.
Danny Orchard has always faded into the background in the presence of his vivacious twin, Ashley. As bright as Danny is dark, Ash is mesmerizing, drawing others in with her surreal good looks. But beneath that beauty lies an ugliness Danny and his family are all too aware of. Teenaged Ash is destructive and – guided by a seemingly insatiable, cold-hearted curiosity – tempts others into vicious games, leaving her family horrified and hopeless.
On the day Ash and Danny turn 16, a mysterious fire kills the girl and leaves her brother clinging to life. As doctors frantically try to save him, Danny briefly dies and experiences his version of heaven: a world without Ash, in which joy is a peaceful drive down the street with Dad. He writes a book about his near-death experience and comes to be seen as an expert on the subject by “Afterlifers,” who have similarly come back from the other side. But Danny’s glimpse of paradise is fleeting: Ash soon finds a way to torment him from beyond the grave – she is increasingly violent and determined never to let him go.
Pyper’s novel takes place in the devastated urban wasteland of Detroit, where the shattered American dream mirrors the lost paradise of childhood Danny longs for. Cleverly, Pyper has created a world in which heaven consists of moments experienced on earth. But so does hell. The Damned is also a classic tale of good twin/evil twin, played out as a balancing act from the moment of the children’s birth, when their mother makes a wish, unwittingly striking a deal with the devil.
The novel’s prose is fast-paced and sure. Pyper adds complexity and subverts the traditional horror story by creating sympathy not only for his hero, but also for Ash. However, this gambit doesn’t entirely pay off: the feeling of tension Pyper strives for in scenes of terror isn’t capable of standing up to the conflicting sympathy he engenders for his antagonist, and the story is subsequently drained of fear.