"DEVIL'S CALL" Book Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Published by Inkshares
Written by J. Danielle Dorn
2017, 355 pages, Fiction
Released on July 18th, 2017
In Joe R. Lansdale’s stellar western adventure novel, The Thicket, he did something I’ve rarely seen in genre fiction, something that is oddly effective and impactful given the innocuous seeming nature of the thing. In the first, very short, paragraph, he tells his reader exactly what is going to happen in the book. Instead of spoiling the story like you’d expect, it has the effect of kickstarting the story, speeding the audience headlong into a whirlwind ride of chaos and violence. It’s such a unique and uncommon approach, I was surprised to see author J. Danielle Dorn do much the same thing with her debut novel, Devil’s Call:
BEFORE I LEAVE YOU in this world, my dear, I aim to record what came to pass when your momma rode from the Nebraska territory to Louisiana to the frozen Badlands to bring to justice the monster who murdered your father.
That brief opening passage serves the purpose of revealing the story, almost to the letter, in one sentence. You know right away that the narrator is talking to a child, likely her own, that the child’s father will be murdered, and that she’s going to go on a long and arduous journey that, one hopes, will end with justice or vengeance, or both, and finally you are made to understand that whoever she’s after is a dangerous individual. But, like Lansdale’s book, it in no way detracts from the story or gives major reveals away, instead serving the purpose of compelling you to read further, driving you straight into the narrative, sparking curiosity and effectively hooking you for the duration.
One of the first things a reader usually wants to know about a book they’re considering is the genre. And it’s a rare occasion when I have difficulty defining what that is, or, having done so, articulating it in a comprehensible fashion. But if I wanted to give credit to everything Devil’s Call pays homage to throughout the book, this review would be exceedingly long to say the least. It’s a literary mashup of horror, weird western, mystery, and magic realism that would likely be termed neo-noir by today’s standards, and that’s about as good a definition as you’re likely to get. So, the first thing you should do when approaching this read is check your expectations at the door, because no matter what you think about it going in, you’re going to be wrong. It’s like nothing you’ve read before.
For a fast, 250-page read, Devil’s Call is painted on an epic canvas and I wasn’t sure if Dorn could pull it off with such a spare count. But she does so wonderfully and terrifyingly, evoking a sense of darkness and dread that permeates the novel, creating intrigue and suspense that give the story impetus and the urge to keep you reading, wanting to know what happens to the characters, particularly Li Lian and Hawk, the witch and the drunk, a mismatched pair of compatriots on the run from the law and in search of revenge on the man, or whatever he is, that killed Li Lian’s husband. Told in the form of a letter to her unborn child, it’s a tale that weaves past and present together through the narrator’s memories and experiences and Dalton’s dark story and the history of cruelties he’s perpetrated.
There’s a thing that a select few special writers bring to the page that tends to enrapture a reader, to take them willingly hostage and immerse them in a tale, a seemingly innate storytelling ability that mesmerizes and captivates, a trait that J. Danielle Dorn has in spades. With spare but truly sublime prose and a cast of characters drawn against a backdrop that seems like it would be a custom fit for The Revenant or maybe Bone Tomahawk, she weaves a complex, intriguing web of pure, unadulterated darkness, as piercing and haunting as a Nick Cave murder ballad, yet enticing as a breeze off the ocean on a hot summer day. Dorn is an obvious scholar of the human condition and she infuses Devil’s Call with emotion so poignant it’s almost painful, masterfully creating interpersonal relationships between her people and putting them through physical and psychological suffering of nightmare proportions that will cause you to spend much of the book with a fist-sized lump in your throat. When she isn’t shocking you with unflinching brutality and technicolor violence, it’s only because she’s too busy breaking your heart, and she does so quite a lot.I could go on for 10 pages talking about this book and still not have told you everything about it that moved me, both as a hard-core fan of dark fiction and as a human being. With this exceptional debut, J. Danielle Dorn took me by surprise and I suspect she’ll do the same for you. Devil’s Call is a literary tour-de-force by an author who most won’t have heard of that will, if there’s any justice in the universe, eventually come to be a well-known—dare I say, “household”—name in horror and neo-noir. With a haunting voice and almost lyrical cadence, she tells a brilliant tale that will simultaneously terrify you and break your heart, one that’ll almost certainly leave you longing for more. And there’s hope on that front as she leaves her story with a slight, but by no means disappointing, cliffhanger that almost promises there’s more to come in this dark and devilish mashup of Revenant meets Bone Tomahawk meets Zero Saints. Having recently read author J-F Dubeau’s incredible novel, A God in the Shed, Devil’s Call is my second experience with an Inkshares publication but it certainly won’t be my last. If you haven’t sampled their recent output, you should remedy that. Visit Inkshares, your local bookstore, or your favorite digital retailer and get this book. You could drop dead at any minute and you don’t want to do so without having read this story.