Valancourt Books has done a really amazing job of late in resurrecting the classic haunted house story, publishing a remarkable number of classic books that have been out of print for years. For instance, they have reprinted Michael McDowell’s The Elementals (1981), Jack Cady’s The Well (1980), Robert Marasco’s Burnt Offerings (1973) and Ernest Henham’s The Feast of Bacchus (1907). Recently, the reprinted another exceptional novel in this genre, Archie Roy’s Devil in the Darkness (1973).
This novel features an introduction by me, and one that I was particular excited to write, as Archie Roy is, as I will note below, perhaps the perfect person to write a haunted house story!
Paul and Carol Wilson are looking forward to a lovely honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands when an unexpected blizzard causes them to lose their way. They seek shelter in the nearest house, which turns out to be an old and crumbling mansion currently occupied by a strange collection of tenants. The Wilsons soon learn that they have stumbled across a paranormal experiment: Ardvreck House has long had a reputation for being haunted, and the occupants of the house are there to seek proof of this.
There are no phones present, however, so everyone is forced to stay. At first, all seems quiet, but dark forces have been set into motion, and events quickly escalate to the point where it appears that nobody may survive the experiment.
The novel is remarkably well-written. It slowly increases its sense of dread, without giving too much away, building to a genuinely horrific revelation. Unlike many horror novels, the characters act in an extremely rational, systematic way — they are mostly scientists, after all! The fact that their intelligence doesn’t save them just heightens the terror.
It isn’t surprising that the characters were written so intelligently — the author, the late Professor Archie Roy, was not only a novelist but a distinguished and prolific astronomer! Many haunted house novels feature paranormal investigators, but Roy is one of the few to be able to speak from experience about how a truly systematic investigation would be carried out.
Furthermore — Roy was also a paranormal investigator! He was the Founding President of the Scottish Society of Psychical Research and performed many investigations of hauntings personally. He became famous for his skeptical and cautious searches, and earned the nickname “The Glasgow Ghostbuster.”
I elaborate upon both his scientific work and his psychical research in my new introduction for this edition of Devil in the Darkness. I practically begged Valancourt to let me write this introduction, because I am totally fascinated by Roy and his career. I also talk a bit about the structure of a haunted house story: how they typically begin, how they typically end, and how Roy plays with that formula.
If you enjoy creepy atmospheric haunted house stories, Devil in the Darkness is well-worth checking out.
Fun little trivia: the lovely cover of this edition was designed by Ian Roy, who I believe is Archie Roy’s son!