First, an admission: I’m not coming at this book from the point of view of a complete stranger. Mr Dail is an occasional visitor to (and commenter on) this blog, and over the months we’ve struck up something of an online friendship. That said, I’ve tried as always not to let this stand in the way of an honest appraisal of the book.
This small caveat aside, here’s my review of The Imaginings.
“Never disregard your imaginings” – these words run through Dail’s novel like a dark vein. When David Blithe finds this cryptic message scrawled on a piece of paper in his brother Peter’s apartment shortly after his apparent suicide, he doubts Peter’s sanity. In fact, as shortly becomes clear, Peter was the helpless victim of a very dark force indeed – and the unfortunate David will be next.
“Those forces roll across the land,” Dail writes, in a particularly chilling passage, “and when they hit, there’s nothing you can do but ride it out.”
In an echo of the unfairness of fate, the entity that has targeted David admits, “You haven’t really done anything wrong.” David cannot escape by repenting for past misdeeds or making amends (though it later transpires that the entity has a particular reason for choosing him); he is, to all intents and purposes, trapped. Interestingly, the theme of imprisonment, of one sort or another, runs through the novel: one character lives in an orphanage, and is locked in after dark; another works in a vast underground labyrinth, in which a series of locked doors lead into a succession of increasingly sinister and claustrophobic rooms.
This is a novel about demonic possession – not generally one of my favourite horror themes, but executed so well here that I was quickly drawn into the action, and kept there. Unlike other tales of possession, the demon does not restrict itself to one particular host, but can take possession of different bodies at will. This adds an additional layer of fear; how can you trust anyone, or ever feel safe, when anyone could at any moment become the conduit for a malign force? It also poses some interesting questions: is morality determined by our deeds, or by our souls? Is it possible for a soul to remain pure when the flesh becomes the instrument of evil?
This is a well-written, tightly plotted story: Dail’s prose is economical yet evocative. The characters are drawn vividly and well, with a satisfying depth and complexity, and we are made to care about them; I was genuinely upset when a genial priest fell foul of the demon.
Reading other reviews of the novel, I noticed that several readers have made a slight criticism, namely that a critical scene at the climax of the novel is repeated from the points of view of two different characters. It’s hard to say much about this without giving away certain elements of the plot, but it was felt that this slowed down the action. This is no doubt a matter of personal preference, but I didn’t find that this troubled me at all; in fact, I actually found that it rounded the action out in quite a satisfying way. Whatever your own preferences, though, this is a minor point, and shouldn’t distract anyone from Dail’s achievement in taking a plot that could easily have become immensely convoluted and bringing it tightly, carefully, cleverly to its conclusion. The steady build-up of tension keeps you hooked, and while it’s not a particularly short novel I got through it in a couple of sittings. Indeed, I almost arrived late for work one morning, when I made the mistake of reading it over breakfast. That’s the mark of a good page-turner!