The Devil has ridden out. Montana’s most feared outlaw has left his secret lover, Maria, alone in their secluded house deep in the wilds. If he had known that she was pregnant the Devil might have stayed. That was almost nine months ago and Maria is still awaiting her lover’s return. But while Maria waits for the Devil, a vengeful band of gunslingers are hunting him. Led by the relentless Rickman Chill, the gang have ventured deep into the dark wilds of Montana and they will stop at nothing to bring the Devil to justice. It is not long before the Chill gang happen upon a lone house in the woods where a pregnant woman seems to be the only inhabitant. Vengeance is a dangerous game, but as the Devil said to Maria before he left her: "There is nothing more dangerous than lovers".
Maria and the Devil is the third book by Graham Thomas, of whom I have had the pleasure of reading both Hats off to Brandenburg and Kiss Me I'm Dying. This book however is way, way different than those aforementioned, Maria and the Devil is a stand-alone western inspired psycho/thriller/drama and is due to be released near Halloween 2012.
Onto the story itself. A feature that I have come to appreciate in the books of Graham Thomas is the world in which the story takes place. The design and lively descriptions. Maria and the Devil takes place in Montana in the western era. The exact date remains hidden but there are enough hints towards the western theme. The story mostly takes place in and around the house that Maria inhabits. Just how he manages to tell it places you directly in the chair opposite Maria, around the camp-fire with Rickman and in the inn with Clara. Creating these neat worlds is really a strong point. Adding to the written descriptions there are the full-page drawings of the guns of The Devil and some of the surroundings.
The prologue in which you are introduced to Maria and the Devil, reads on its own and gave a sinister and dark tone to the book showing The Devil in what he probably does best. It's only in the beginning and ending that he makes an appearance though. After the prologue the feature is on Maria, the Devil's secret lover. This dark and gritty tone that was cast in the beginning slowly ebbs away as you are being introduced in to the world of Maria. But not fully. As you get to know Maria the tone changes from creepy to joyful and from light-hearted to sad and compelling. These changes are caused by what happens by and to Maria. In the earlier chapters she is all on her own and misses the Devil. And as she is on her own you can just feel the urge of her to get reunited to The Devil. And that she, by this “ isolation” , is seeing things and having very vivid dreams. In the later chapters Maria undergoes a sort of transformation to a more overall feeling and trying to fill and aching gap to slightly going mad. Especially the ending chapter really struck a snare on the compelling side of an lover sitting, waiting, and not knowing what to do.
However there is more to Maria and the Devil than just Maria. Another addition to the story are Rickman Chill and his band of gunslingers. He is on the lookout for revenge to the Devil, his true cause is not revealed, only that the Devil got him once but he persevered. As you get the first glimpses of Rickman, he is ruthless, obscure but he is particularly caring for one member of his gunslingers. But looking at their history nothing it revealed about both their past. Names are given, but just first so I thought coincidence... but then came page 347 and turning to page over to 348. BAM! And Yes! This was cool and brilliant. Everything fell into place, well at least for one thing. It is these kinds of twists that I appreciate.
There is still another aspect that makes Maria and the Devil a great read. The house that Maria inhabits. It gave a creepy feeling that I can not quite place. With many vague and vivid dreams occurring to both Maria and Conrad some can be viewed as delusional. Most of those dreams end well and are perceived as just dreams. But what makes this house really creepy are the Hobo Spiders, so if you did not have arachnophobia you might still develop it. This book can definitely talk you into it. I still cannot place directly what the spider did, I can guess but in leaving this supernatural aspect in the dark adds much more intrigue.
In Maria and the Devil, Graham Thomas managed to create a very strong story featuring many elements that come greatly together in the beginning as well as in the end. There was a very strong tone of a dark and sad theme but on occasion giving a light-hearted moment. Maria is shown as a very strong character and all what she goes trough reflects well in her character. And with this edition to the current repertoire of Graham Thomas he shows that he can write great stories, funny and witty as well as dark and gritty.
Review by Jasper de Joode
London based author, screenwriter and filmmaker Graham Thomas is the gentleman behind Hats off to Brandenburg, one of our Books of the Month for July 2012. In fact, we loved his book so much we just had to catch up with him a [...]
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