Sandy DeLuca Invites us to Step Through Hell's Door (#bookreview)

Once again we're bringing some horror to the ruins this morning, with another entry in our Halloween Read-tacular. Lock the doors, close the curtains, turn on all the lights . . . and enjoy.

If you've ever watched one of those really twisted episodes of Criminal Minds and wondered what an extended, uncensored, feature film version might look like, then this is the book for you.

If you've ever enjoyed Silence of the Lambs and came away from either the book or the movie wishing it had been less about Hannibal Lector, and more about Buffalo Bill, then this is the book for you.

If you've ever found that you actually prefer the original book over the movie version of Psycho, precisely because it dragged you deeper inside Norman Bates' psychosis, then this is the book for you.

Just don't expect a happy ending.

Hell's Door may very well be the best, the darkest, and the most perverse serial killer tale or police procedural that I have read in a very long time. What Sandy DeLuca has crafted here is a short novella that works exceedingly well in both genres, taking the first to extremes, while nicely subverting the second, and tying them both together with a twist that I honestly never saw coming.

Let's start with the second of the two - the police procedural. On the surface, this is the most straightforward (almost clichéd) element of the story. Detectives Lacy Powers and John Demmings are tired, jaded, overworked, and overwhelmed by their dogged pursuit of one of the worst serial killers in history. There's the obligatory will-they-won't-they sexual tension between them, with John coming off a failed marriage, and Lacy seemingly married to her job. There's also standard narrative isolation that suggests, no matter how big the case, they're really the only cops in town on the job.

Behind all that, however, there's a whole other layer that DeLuca has deftly subverted. She takes the cliché of the maverick cops who know better than everyone else, who don't need to inconvenience themselves with evidence to solve a case, and almost gleefully demonstrates how wrong they are. We know from the start that they're harassing the wrong suspect, and we're increasingly aware of the fact that more innocent women are dying because of their shared obsession. She also strips both characters to the bone, revealing them to be something other than we'd expect, particularly in the way Lacy presented seems to enjoys the inappropriate attention of their suspect, the devil-worshiping dominatrix, Ramsay Wolfe.

Now, as for the second of the two - the serial killer tale - DeLuca pushes that to the limits and rides the razor's edge of almost-too-extreme. She puts us right inside the mind of her killer, exposing us to thoughts, feeling, fears, and fantasies that are clearly the product of a deeply disturbed mind. Whether it's rape with a broken chair leg, removing a victim's skin, or cutting off heads with a knife, she doesn't hesitate to describe the ugliest details, but she's careful not to sadistically glorify the acts. It's very clear what's being done to the women of Providence, but the focus is clearly on the killer's justification for suffering, not on the suffering itself.

As for the serial killer in question, to say too much would be to spoil the slow reveal of the story, as well as the final twist. There is absolutely a little Buffalo Bill and Norman Bates in our killer, but not necessarily in the ways you would expect. We get glimpses of history, of past events, that help to illuminate the killer's motives and methods, but DeLuca wisely steers clear of revealing too much, or of trying to transform her monster into a sympathetic victim. One thing I will say, however, is that no matter how creepy or unsettling you find the killer to be while reading, nothing can compare to what you'll think after the final twist.

It takes a brave - or possibly troubled - reader to step confidently through Hell's Door, but you won't be disappointed by what you find on the other side. This was a stellar tale, entirely suitable to being read in a single sitting, but I suggest breaking it up over a couple of days, just to give your mind time to process what's going on. Trust me, it's worth it.

Kindle Edition
Published October 2013 by DarkFuse