Horror devotees know that whatever is seemingly perfect will prove to be harmful. In The Damned by Andrew Pyper, achievement oriented Ashleigh “Ash” Orchard personifies perfection. She is beautiful and talented, an excellent student, and a striking counterpoint to her fraternal twin brother, Danny. Danny is a sweet ordinary guy who lives in his sister’s shadow. He doesn’t compete with her, or challenge her. She has psychologically diminished him, and he rightfully fears her; continuing to fear her even after she dies. The malevolent offspring theme is not new to genre fiction and evil incarnate has also been explored multiple times, but author Pyper enlivens the established motifs in a spooky narrative, which delves into terrifying ties that bind…beyond the grave.
In utero, Ash and Danny were strangled by their mother’s umbilical cord. They were pronounced dead at birth but, via a desperate maternal plea to any powers-that-be, the babies revived. A dark payment is extracted in exchange for their survival. At age 16, the brother and sister perish again in a fire, but Danny returns from death through resuscitation. He writes a best seller about his view of the afterlife, but is haunted by Ash and her sadistic sociopathic tenacity.
Danny discovers after repeated near death experiences that there’s a hellish region existing in tandem with earthly and celestial realms. He must address its terrors to salvage a new relationship that gives him reason to live. All the while, Ash continues to bedevil and threaten any possibility he has for happiness. It is sibling rivalry and twin bonding taken to the max.
The character of Ash is a rather like an extension of “The Bad Seed” of the eponymous novel, play, and screen adaptations, adding a supernatural element makes the inflicted damage more pervasive. Ash gleefully infiltrates her victims’ psyches and revels in their suffering. As tortured Danny notes: “Hell is a place on the other side. But it can also be here.”
The Damned, published by Simon & Schuster, is one of several Andrew Pyper novels optioned for films. Another of his movie-optioned books, The Demonologist, won the 2014 International Thriller Writers’ Thriller Award in the hardcover category, besting works by contenders such as Stephen King. Pyper’s prose contains impressive visual imagery that could translate well to film. What will be hard to capture are the splendidly rendered infernal machinations of Ash’s mind. Her road to hell isn’t at all paved with good intentions.