The Devil’s Labyrinth (2007) by John Saul

Devil's_Labyrinth_bookcover

It should be a sin to read this book.

In fact, it is, for only indolence will keep you turning the pages. The Devil’s Labyrinth, thy name is Sloth.

Ryan McIntyre gets himself beat up at school, prompting his mom, Teri, to send him to Catholic School. It could be worse: with his soldier father dead, Ryan’s mom has started seeing Tom, and Ryan, who doesn’t like Tom at all, is happy to get away from him. Oh, sure, St. Isaac’s is a strange place — one kid slits a woman’s throat shortly before Ryan arrives and ghostly screams wake Ryan up in the night — but where else can a geek like Ryan find a beautiful girlfriend in two days? We know she’s a hummer because her name is Melody.

Melody has a roommate (no, not Josie or Valerie). Sofia. Sounds Italian, or Latin. Lusty. She’s a bit of a bad girl. She gets caught one night with her boyfriend’s hand in her blouse by a no-nonsense nun who drags her off to a secret chapel in the maze of tunnels beneath the school’s sprawling campus. The mysterious Father Sebastian, knowledgeable in the arts of exorcism (or so the nun thinks), performs the ancient ritual on Sofia, purifying her soul (or so the nun thinks). But we know and Sofia knows that Father Sebastian hasn’t exorcised anything; instead, he’s done rather the opposite and called forth the evil in her soul. And Melody wonders why her roommate isn’t the same when she returns.

Meanwhile, a couple of Muslim terrorists search for a precious object and the Pope himself takes an interest in the wondrous doings at St. Isaac’s.

Now, just how dumb is all this? Well, imagine a nun (strict, but devoted to God) who sees nothing wrong with an exorcism that includes a giant crucifix carved to a point just above Christ’s head, suspended upside down over the “sinner,” then multiply that tenfold. That’s how dumb all of this is. It’s only through multiplication that you can arrive at Muslims who reject the Catholic faith not because its tenants are false — indeed, they’re demonstrably true — but because Allah can beat up God.

This is a book in which good people have convenient “feelings” about people and things that are never wrong. Like Ryan’s dislike of Tom. One particularly idiotic scene has Teri lying to a couple of cops because of a “feeling” she has about someone else in the room. This comes after one of the cops had a “feeling” Teri was in trouble. Teri supposedly loved her husband, Ryan’s father, who was Good and Brave and Pure (he was a soldier, after all), but unlike Ryan, she can’t sense anything amiss about Tom, who is, underneath, nothing at all like her husband.

Oh, and there’s an equally convenient ghost that pops up now and again.

The Devil’s Labyrinth shifts point of view so often that it’s only barely accurate to say that this is Ryan’s story. But it’s an awfully shallow story, with a weak and unappealing hero. Things happen to Ryan, he doesn’t do much of anything. He doesn’t fight the boys who put him in the hospital to begin with, he doesn’t have to work for Melody, he gets pushed around by everything and everyone — all he ever learns is that supernatural forces are a lot stronger than he is. (Sofia, at least, learns to enjoy eating maggots.)

Saul’s “theology” is just as shallow. He raises an interesting question: what if the evil in all men’s souls could be drawn out and destroyed? Having raised the question, though, Saul has no intention of answering it. He doesn’t even go near it, in fact. The only character it really seems to matter to (he’s part of the Church) spends his time creaming over the idea of it without ever thinking about what it would mean. He thinks it would be wonderful, but I think he might change his tune when he found himself suddenly unemployed.

Secular readers should avoid this book religiously. Catholic readers should be prepared to confess it on Sunday.

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