With its wonderfully lurid paperback cover that features a blurb from Stephen King and a review quote comparing it to The Exorcist, and its artwork of both a scary-looking young girl as well as a black-winged demon, Son of the Endless Night is a quintessential 1980s horror novel. Is the little girl in jeopardy, or is she responsible for whatever evil the novel promises? Perhaps a bit of both...
Despite its 500-page length, this reads smoothly and quickly, while the writing is strong as John Farris doesn't dumb down or simplify his prose like many mainstream horror novelists. In fact, he's quite skilled at the odd description and the unexpected simile or clever metaphor. Endless Night is also partly a legal thriller, which was unique but, as far as I could tell, realistically portrayed even when, dare I say, a demon is on trial!
was only trying to help Polly. But who's Polly?
Well, she's a 12-year-old girl who Rich believes was being held captive and abused by a Satanic cult, her father a member, her father the owner of the chalet Rich and Karyn were staying at when the murder occurred. Rich tried to rescue her, failed, then led the police back to the place she was being held, to find - nothing whatsoever. The purported leader of this cult, the mysterious scarred woman Inez Cordway, with whom Rich shared a bizarre and hallucinatory evening, has now seemingly disappeared. Richard, what's going on?
Farris is quite good at creating people with real lives in a real world; his knack for apt and earthy physical descriptions of people is more like that of, say, Robertson Davies than a horror novelist's. One character's skin tone is the color of day-old hollandaise, another has a Southern accent hock-deep in hominy grits, still another has the frosty radiance of a new penny, flaring to red along the taut bonelines. And the sex? Yeah, plenty of graphic sex, but not exploitative, not pornographic; graphic in that Farris captures the carnal thoughts that flit through our minds, as well as the pleasures and pains of the act itself. But not all of Endless Night is about humanity; indeed, Farris also excels at envisioning a demonic presence, a chaos of fire and death and insanity, of untreated wounds and charred flesh, of black vomit and cesspools and mass open graves. Of a world totally corrupt, ravaged and dead as it hurtled one last time around the sun.
Pretty cool, huh? With all its intermingled characters, sense of place and time, hints at class struggle, scenes of epic terror and violence, and its dramatic unspooling of such a large canvas of events, Endless Night is quite a bit reminiscent of some works by King and Straub. While it veers close to a sort of Catholic apologia in the climax - similar perhaps to the deux ex machina of The Stand (1978) - I still found the novel utterly engaging, the kind you simply devour over a weekend. Sure, there are some tasteless, ridiculous moments here and there (Conor's devout Catholic wife Gina finds herself battling evil forces with broadly-drawn Southern redneck fundies) but that's just what horror fiction fans want, right? Soon as we see that paperback cover art, we know what we're in for, or at least what we hope we're in for, and Son of the Endless Night gives it to us straight, no chaser.