The demon who inhabits Pale House in Richard Kadrey’s 2023 novella The Pale House Devil is the star of the show for me. Part of this short, fairly fast-paced story is centered in its point of view, and it is one fascinating, confounding creature. It also has a habit of eating people, so… that’s bad.
In this short outing, Kadrey introduces us to Ford and Neuland, paranormal mercenaries. Ford seems to be a more or less regular human with skills in magic, while Neuland is undead, a Marcheur as he calls himself. When a job in New York goes wrong, the duo hightails it to the west coast, eventually to the San Francisco Bay Area, where a woman named Tilda hires them to exorcise something from a rich man’s house the north central valley. Tilda’s connection to the rich man is something of a mystery, and so is the man himself—and then there’s the thing inside the former family home, Pale House.
Kadrey excels at snappy dialogue, and that is this story’s strength. Shepherd Mansfield, the rich owner of Pale House, is truly vile, and both Ford and Neuland bristle at how he treats Tilda, but soon enough they are distracted, to put it mildly, by the demon in the house.
Novellas require compression of a story, and often elements that make reading richer are put aside or given short shrift. In this case, vivid imagery and magical action take center stage, at the expense of characterization. Neuland gets a backstory, and it’s interesting, but Ford is closer to a type—a wisecracking killer with ideals. Tilda was a disappointment in the first half of the book, but when circumstances demanded, she improved in the second half.
The imagery, and the conception of the demon, a kind of interdimensional traveler, stand out, and Kadrey’s always-clever banter moves the story along. It works pretty well as an origin story, if that’s Kadrey’s intent, and yet it is a stand-alone story.
This one will please Kadrey completists. It’s a quick, gory, scary read.