Saturday, June 8, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "The Devil's Laughter" by William W. Johnstone (1992)

SUMMARY: A tedious mess of a book

The hero of the story is a “Marty Stu,” the male version of the stock Mary Sue over-the-top, perfect heroine.  According to the book:  
Link’s problem – if it could be called a problem –was that he could do anything…and do it extremely well.  He just didn't do anything for very long.  He’d been, among other things, a carpenter, a welder, a mechanic, a game warden, a bush pilot, and he’d spent almost eight years with the CIA.  He was also a very good journalist – which he’d set out to be in the first place. 
He is also a book author, vigilante, and an amateur veterinarian.  Naturally, he is a “handsome man in a rugged sort of way.”  That is quite a character introduction. Despite that laundry list of accomplishments, I found the character to be a thundering bore. He is an extremely smug, unlikable, violent, know-it-all. If he has a motto, it seems to be “shoot first and ask questions never.”

It goes without saying that the town of LaGrange, Louisiana needs Link Donovan’s help to investigate a series of grisly murders.  Like Encyclopedia Brown, the police department can’t possibly function without Link’s assistance.

Review continued after the jump.

Once Link is on the case, he discovers that a local devil’s coven has grown out of control. Half the town, including high-ranking public officials, are members of a satanic cult.

The book starts to get interesting when a new female veterinarian, Anne Brooks, and her three children move into the local haunted house.  Link and Anne are immediately attracted to each other and soon they are both investigating the local satanic cult.  (That is the absolute LAST thing I would do once I moved to a new town.)

The haunted house itself is interesting.  There is a scary basement filled with old books about the occult and devil worship.  The basement also has a mind of its own.  Despite having the one exit door nailed open for safety, the house rejects the hardware and locks people in. The lights flash on and off. The house also creates realistic illusions (fire, piles of bones and human skulls).

It is not long before Link and Anne investigate the haunted basement. (That is the second to LAST thing I would do once I moved to a new town.)  The house also boasts some sassy talking ghosts who can make phone calls and throw pots and pans.

The house only serves as a device to get Anne and her children to move in with Link as soon as possible.  The house is rarely mentioned again.  The talking ghosts come and go at random for the rest of the story.

The town is then neatly split between the good guys and the bad guys.  Once Link establishes the bad guys, he goes on a one-man, Rambo-esque, killing spree with a huge collection of guns, grenades, trip wires, and explosives.

It is frustrating that the novel sticks with Link.  It would have been interesting to know more about the mysterious 100+ year old witch who is the leader of the cult and her husband, a local judge. There is a major plot twist towards the end that came from nowhere.  (HINT:  You'll never guess who Link's real mother is.)

There is also the subplot of Anne being guided by supernatural forces to move to the haunted house in LaGrange. The evil powers that be have a generations-old grudge against Anne's family. That narrative is quietly dropped and never leads to anything.

The book is poorly written and the characters are boring and one-dimensional.  They are either good or ridiculously bad.  This is best illustrated by Anne's oldest son, Chris.

At the beginning of the book, Link goes over to Anne's (haunted) house to meet her three kids.  The younger kids are good but Anne warns Link about Chris.  She explains that her oldest son "is a pathological liar and more than likely a sociopath."  She also says that her son's psychiatrist told her that the best thing for a "bad seed" like Chris is "a bullet in the head."  Is that supposed to be a valid medical opinion?

When Anne knocks on Chris' door to ask him to turn down his music, he punches her in the face and then flicks a switchblade knife at Link. Things escalate quickly.  Link "played a hunch" that Chris is a devil-worshiper and is proven correct. Chris is then thrown out of the house.

There could have been some actual dramatic tension when Link kills Anne's oldest son at the end of the book.  Instead, Chris was just one of the many Satan worshipers gunned down by Link. Anne took it stoically when she found out.  She just walked into a bedroom and closed the door. On the next page, Anne and Link are married in a quiet ceremony. 

The book could not end without the head of the state police and the governor thanking Link for being such a hero.

This book is scarce and is pretty expensive to buy (even on eBay).  Do NOT waste your money.  If you DO spend your money on this crap, then you might be hearing The Devil's Laughter all the way to the bank.

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