The Boy Who Killed Demons

By Dave Zeltserman

(Overlook, $24.95, 288 pages)

Who is this author?

Dave Zeltserman, who lives in the Boston area, has published 10 horror and crime novels, to much acclaim. His books include Monster, which was a Booklist Top 10 Horror Fiction selection; The Caretaker of Lorne Field, which was shortlisted by the American Library Association for best horror novel of 2010 and named a Horror Gem by Library Journal and A Killer’s Essence, a crime novel that, like Zelserman’s Outsourced, has been optioned for film.

What is this book about?

And you thought that kid who could see dead people had problems.

In The Boy Who Killed Demons, you will meet a teenager from the upscale suburb of Newton, Mass., who develops the sudden and unwanted ability to see demons.  These demons are complete with horns and red skin, yellow eyes, twisted faces, horns: the works.. . .and they also are Henry’s neighbors. And he thinks they are catching on to his ability to see beyond their human masks as they plot to destroy the world. Is Henry crazy? He does some research and concludes he is not. Is Henry going to ignore his new and unwelcome talent? He can’t, not when he learns that little kids are being prepped for ritual sacrifice. He gives up sports and girls, even the alluring Sally Freeman, and devotes himself to learning ancient languages, the better to read up on how to kill demons. Worst of all, he can’t tell anyone, especially his parents, for fear of being called crazy and sent to an institution. Not a bad setup for a novel, and Zeltserman follows through.

Why you’ll like it:

Zeltserman has pulled off a neat trick here: this coming-of-age novel is genuinely scary and genuinely funny, two things that do not often work together. You could, I suppose, read the whole story as an allegory about the shock and horror so many teens experience when they figure out just  how nasty adolescence and adulthood can be, or you can just take it for what it is: boy meets demons, boy fights demons, boy triumphs. Either way, it’s a fascinating tale. And the devils are in the details.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly gives it a starred review:  “Henry Dudlow is a boy with a terrible affliction. Either the world is about to be invaded by demons, or Henry has completely lost his mind. His efforts to find answers unfold in his diary, which holds the confidences of a young man isolated from his family and peers by an ability he can neither control nor deny. Henry’s conviction that the rising demon threat is real leads him to ever more dangerous behaviors, even as he connects with people who are sympathetic to his plight. Henry is denied the proof he needs to feel completely confident in his actions, and yet must continue to take action due to the terrible consequences his inaction could bring, so he bravely become something bad, in order to prevent something far worse. The sympathy that Zeltserman (Monster) invokes on behalf of Henry is heartbreaking, and readers will fully believe in both the madness and the greatness of his tragic young hero.

Says Library Journal:  “If when you were 13 years old you discovered that you had suddenly acquired the unsettling ability to see evil people as hideous demons, what would you do? Author Zeltserman introduces Henry Dudlow, now 15, and well along the path he has chosen for himself as a result of being endowed with this particular sixth sense. Fearing that his parents will decide that he is suffering from mental illness—a possibility he has already explored—and insist that he be institutionalized, Henry has chosen to keep his trait a secret from everyone. But he feels a duty to use his peculiar faculty for the good of mankind by hunting and eventually slaying the demons in our midst. To this end he studies self-defense, teaches himself to read ancient texts on demonology, and avoids opportunities to interact with his peers, worrying they will discover his secret. Verdict: Despite the ever-heightening suspense as Henry pursues and conquers his first quarry, the sense of this teen’s isolation often overrides the heroics of his quest. Heroes need allies as well as adversaries. Still, Henry’s fortitude and single-mindedness will stir the hearts of adult and YA action fantasy fans.

Kirkus Reviews says:  Humor outweighs the horror in this amusing look at a 15-year-old saving the world. Henry Dudlow is a typical upper-middle-class teenager. His father is a lawyer, his mother’s a marketing executive, and they live a very comfortable life in Waban, Massachusetts, where “you don’t find too many kids shoveling snow or mowing lawns to earn money.” That was BSD, or Before Seeing Demons. Where most people see normal humans, Henry sees “flaming red skin, yellow eyes, horns, grotesque faces with twisted misshapen noses” all around him. He becomes obsessed with learning the demons’ wicked ways, teaching himself German and Italian to read medieval texts and conducting experiments to track them at various places around Boston. Enter Sally Freeman, a first crush from grade school who moves to Henry’s high school and fans the flames of adolescence to high heat. Henry is now obsessed with both Sally and the demons he’s hunting. Children nearing their fourth birthdays go missing, and Henry makes the connection to a gruesome find in a warehouse in Brooklyn where 39 kids were found caged in some unspeakable ritual. The pattern is repeating in Boston. Henry embraces his calling, drops Sally—temporarily—and commits to saving the children and the world from the gates of hell. The story is told in the form of Henry’s journal, where he keeps a record in case he doesn’t survive. Zeltserman manages the voice of a teenager deftly, and the adolescent angst rings true. The demons are almost background to a tale about growing up. Zeltserman has written an entertaining novel but not one that will keep you from turning off the lights.”

When is it available?

Don’t be scared. It’s waiting for readers at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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