It seems to me that horror fiction works best when it comes from within us. Haunted houses and possessed dolls and evil videotapes are all very well, but true horror comes from the most dangerous place of all — deep down inside. The Evil Inside by Philip Taffs cranks up the psychodrama to number eleven as it takes us inside the mind of a man who may or may not be losing his shit, big-time.
The blurb isn’t takings its meds:
A new millennium: On 31 December 1999, Guy Russell arrives in New York along with his fragile wife and their young son. A painful tragedy has led them to swap Melbourne for Manhattan, and seek a fresh start.
A new beginning: With a new job secured at a thriving Midtown firm, and temporary residence obtained in the Upper West Side’s Olcott Hotel – a landmark with a morbid history of its own – Guy feels it is finally the time to lay his troubles to rest.
A new nightmare: Yet something will not let him. A sinister evil from Guy’s deep-buried past is scratching its way back into his present, while the behaviour of his son, Callum, is becoming more and more disturbing and chilling. As Guy starts to believe Callum is being possessed by this dark force, those around him fear he is gradually dispossessing himself of his own sanity. And as Guy grapples with whether the evil tormenting him is in his surroundings, his son, or his own mind, he begins to push himself ever closer to the edge.
The Evil Inside is a devilish little book that leaves the reader dangling as to the true nature of the evil that attaches itself to its feckless protagonist and his young son. It’s a terrific exercise in sustained tension. Taffs never unleashes all the full-blown horror tropes, never quite brings them to the boil, so you’re never sure where it’s heading.
There’s something off about Guy from the beginning. Endearingly feckless at first, he is soon revealed to be a dreary self-destructive asshole. It’s a brave writer who makes his protagonist such a world-class shit bag, and Guy is such a monumental fuck-up that he’s almost breathtaking. He’s the kind of man who never knows when the party had come to an end, and even creeping revelations about his upbringing doesn’t really excuse his behaviour. But then, Guy isn’t exactly the first advertising character to let the side down. It’s a fine line, our sympathy for Guy — and Taffs just about manages to keep us onside.
The Evil Inside is a sinister magpie of a book. All kinds of arcane trivia an urban legends are introduced into the narrative — flavouring what is essentially a very simple, very linear narrative, a man and his family going to hell in a handcart -– about Sinatra and the Kennedy Assassination and the Olcott Hotel. And Taffs uses mails and letters and case notes and even a short story in his narrative. And because the story i set at the beginning of this century, it’s imbued with that weird millennial tension.
Taffs doesn’t quite keep all his narrative balls in the air as the story approaches its nasty end, but The Evil Inside is at times genuinely unsettleing. It’s an eccentric, unpredictable and often toe-curling ride. The climax, when all is revealed, is genuinely yuck.
Many thanks for Quercus for the review copy. Ages back — oh my god, it was the start of the year — we did an intel interview with Philip. You can see it right here. Click away, my inquisitive chums.