Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Case Against Satan, by Ray Russell

Staff review by Chris Saliba

The precursor to such horror classics as The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby, Ray Russell's debut novel thrills with its spine chilling demonology.

Ray Russell was an American writer of short stories, novels and screenplays. He was also an editor of the Playboy anthologies and published many now well known science fiction and horror writers. The Case Against Satan was his first novel, the plot of which would basically turn up again a decade later in William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist (1971).

Teenager Susan Garth, a sweet, pretty girl, has been having strange turns. She finds churches make her feel sick and she takes to using profanities, calling the church and its high priests “dung”. Susan starts to go even further than this, accusing church members of sexually abusing her. In one amazing scene, she disrobes and taunts the local parish priest, Father Halloran, accusing him of lascivious thoughts.

Susan’s father, a practicing Catholic, although not devout, decides to seek help from the new priest, Father Gregory Sargent, who has replaced the much traumatised Father Halloran. Father Sargent decides to consult Bishop Crimmings about what course to take. After Crimmings has an interview with the clearly demonic Susan, it’s decided an exorcism is in order. 

At 140 pages, this is a tightly written little horror story that keeps the breathless reader in its grip. The novel’s best device is the innocent, sweet 16-year-old Susan, who vacillates between her polite, demure schoolgirl persona and foul mouthed devil incarnate. Some of it’s almost funny, especially when she so skilfully taunts Bishop Crimmings. Nor is Russell’s story short of shocking revelations, some of which occur on the final pages. This horror story ticks like clockwork and has the power to genuinely frighten and alarm.

Scary, witty and tightly written, Ray Russell’s first novel is a must for horror buffs, and for anyone else, it's definitely worth a look in. But warning: don't read late at night!

The Case Against Satan, by Ray Russell. Published by Penguin Classics. ISBN: 9780143107279  RRP: $27.99