OFF THE SHELF: “Better the Devil You Know”

By Marcus Pan

Chain Border

Better the Devil You KnowSue Simpson has been feeding me her short, wonderful fiction stories for Legends for years now. Her debut was back in Legends #94(1), January 2000, with a short entitled Dark Solitude. Her flair for deviant prose and invigoratingly brilliant imagery – not always pleasant to see at that – has increased steadfastly since. Some of her more memorable shorts that have appeared since then included Pact of Joy(2), Swimming With Goldfish(3), the more recent Who is Tulovski(4) from this year and one of my personal favorites – The Service(5). She’s taken a break from shorts writing, and although promises to return, the time was being used to put out her second book: Better the Devil You Know. Sue’s first book, Lizard’s Leap, was a children’s storybook and Better the Devil is her first full length psycho-thriller horror novel. She is also currently working on the follow up – People on the Edge – which is said to be out soon.

Better the Devil You Know employs all of Sue’s foremost literature tricks – her brash use of shocking imagery both for good and bad. Some of you might remember her extremism displayed in her short Breakfast in Bed(6) – you’ll find it just as apparent here, and moreso because a novel allows you the time and space to really display it without fear of coming out too verbose for a short story format.

What is most striking about this novel…and I’m jumping really far here, but nonetheless…it contains one of the most thrilling and brilliantly written and deduced endings I can ever remember reading. The closing chapters of Better the Devil You Know are truly amazing and if they don’t suck you in so deep you can’t get out you’re probably dead.

Another thing that Sue has excelled at is her character creation. You’ll find some forgettable – but the prime characters are developed to such a degree that you can associate with them nearly as well as you would with, say, Hannibal Lechter…Hannibal is someone so well defined in movies and books that you find yourself almost knowing him – even if you don’t understand him. The same is true of Sue’s characters. Eleanor and Evelynn Erickson, their tormentors the Creator and Mother. While meanwhile cursory characters like Ellie’s boyfriend Matt and her agent Rob are forgettable and underdeveloped. They could have been given more life, yes – but was it really necessary? Probably not.

There is at least one thing I found disappointing in Better the Devil, but many of you will be able to gloss over the shortcomings here. It’s with the editing…there were a lot of missed and misplaced quotes, for example. Excessive use of commas and other pausing punctuation. As an editor, it’s hard for me to ignore this and as an editor I found that at times it took away from the overall flow of the story. The earlier chapters also tend to move slowly, like a roller coaster going uphill. But once you reach the crest and the race begins, hold on to your knickers!

The story begins at the end, which can be confusing for some. But it leads up to a grand finale. The only problem with the first chapter of the book being similar (almost exact) to the last I find is that it foreshadows more than needs be, letting the more astute of you readers picking up on what’s to come by the novels close. This doesn’t really lend itself to hampering the book however, as the closing chapters are still one of the most riveting ever written and by the story’s end I found myself more invigorated by knowing how the novel got to where I knew it was going to go. It doesn’t spoil things, in other words.

Better the Devil You Know is a fine psycho-horror thriller. While Hannibal could still chew up and spit out The Creator on even a bad day, the book nonetheless is truly a thrill to read and leads up to one of the greatest bang-up endings I’ve had the pleasure to be sucked into.

“Better the Devil You Know” by Sue Simpson
Published in Great Britian by Best Books Online
Copyright © 2003 by Sue Simpson
ISBN: 1-904502-34-2

(1) Assuming I’m remembering this correctly – I’m not exactly what you would call memory-sufficient.
(2) Legends #103.
(3) Legends #128.
(4) Legends #130.
(5) Legends #104.
(6) Ran in Legends #99.

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