What Hell May Come
WHAT HELL MAY COME by Rex Hurst (Crystal Lake Publishing, June 12 2020 release date) 286 pages, paperback. ISBN # 978 1646693092. Kindle Edition ASIN # B088XFMLP3.
There’s an author’s note preceding the prologue wherein writer Rex Hurst refers to the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and the conspiracy theories back then of devil cults influencing youth through pop culture. He wondered what a society with Satanism secretly ruling mass media for real would look like?
That brief introduction was very encouraging and resulted in my immediately continuing through the prologue. I was very interested to see where Hurst’s vision of such a world plays out on the page. I was provided a digital copy from Crystal Lake in exchange for an honest review.
The descriptions of life in a decaying city in Upstate New York, and the portrayal of misfit teenagers struggling to find an ounce of hope and support are very authentic. This helps lend credence to the later instances of cultish rituals and demonic conspiracies and gives them a sense of plausibility.
The prologue confused me a bit as to what direction the story would begin in, but it made sense once I finished Chapter 2. Each chapter has a subtitle that may serve as a framing device, and I like the addition. By Chapter 3 it becomes clear that the main character, teenager Jon St Fond, not only has a shitty life with parents that mistreat him and coddle his sisters – but his family harbors a dark secret that he finally discovers.
The novel progresses at a manic pace, introducing some odd and creepy situations and then constantly adding more layers of dread until the final outcome. Through the course of the novel, Jon becomes enmeshed in the demonic pursuits all around him, first by immersing himself in a fantasy role-playing game that summons a monstrous creature and then uncovering a Satanic cult movement to create the arrival of the Dark Messiah through sex and blood-driven rituals that his parent seem to play a prominent role in.
Jon is a high school student in the 1986 Buffalo NY low-income area of Black Rock, where he is the apparent black sheep of his family. His father ridicules and criticizes him. His mother hates and abuses him. His older sister, Michelle, is constantly haggard and stoned and trades sex for drugs. His parents permit and often support her lifestyle, while Jon is subject to incredibly strict and unfair house rules. Catherine, his six-year-old sister, is antagonistic and spoiled by her mother who registers her for one child beauty/talent pageant after another. Catherine lords her favored treatment over Jon and taunts him constantly.
It stands to reason that Jon’s best friend, Michael, would have a similar difficult but different home life with parents that constantly abuse and degrade him. Jon, who is the narrator of the novel, finishes up his description of his friend with this summary: “Who knows what barnacles Michael had sticking to the bottom of his soul.”
Jon and Michael escape from their wretched family life by playing Dungeons And Dragons and other role-playing games with two other friends: Louis, a newer resident and skilled football player who doesn’t mix in well and is mocked for his southern accent; and the somewhat overweight and shunned Kathy. Before the novel ends, each member of this gaming quartet is changed, and not necessarily for the better. Jon seems to be falling down the same rabbit hole his family members inhabit and is somewhat seduced by the dark promises of a better life if he joins the majority. As his involvement gets deeper and deeper, the reader is left guessing how Jon will emerge until the concluding chapter, which did not disappoint.
Hurst includes a score of bizarre events and scenarios and then ties them all neatly together before the story concludes: a hidden room in Jon’s home with cameras monitoring every area; a basement that acts as the nexus for rituals to bring forth otherworldly beings; a strange bowl with odd symbols that plays an alleged role in blood rituals; a new role-playing game introduced to the group by Michael that uses a pentagram board; strange visitors at the house; secret videos; a cemetery that coughs up visions and/or wraiths; demonology research; a woodsy meeting ground for like-minded worshippers where it’s rumored Wiccans, Druids, and Pagans once met; dead animals and mysterious disappearances; a trip to sleazy Tijuana Mexico and a kidnapping/ransom. There is much to keep readers engaged.
Rex Hurst researched the Satanic Panic of the 1980s very well and incorporates two main elements of those unfounded conspiracy theories into the novel: the effects of role-playing games and an underground Satanic cult of ancient families carrying on a blood tradition.
In a video posted to YouTube, Hurst details his research and points to two books as his main influences: the memoir Michelle Remembers by Michelle Smith (an alleged confession of years of abuse by Satanic parents that became revealed under hypnosis therapy) and the fictional Mazes & Monsters by Rona Jaffe (which exploited the theories about the dangers of fantasy role-playing games and was made into a television movie with Tom Hanks). Watch the video at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0wkUbEyb6k&t=3s