The Devil's Pocketbook - by Ross Jeffery
Any book from Ross is pretty much essential reading for me – I knew from Ross’ own tweets during the production of this book that he had searched for a good home for it, and that Dark Lit picked it up, seemed fated – both the author and Press are on stellar paths, both prolific and consistent in both quality and presentation. So, how would it fare against the likes of Tethered (probably my favorite Jeffery book to date)? Would it have the emotional impact of that book, the underlying tension between two people undergoing trauma? Would it have the nastiness of the opening of Tome, the brute blunt force of self-damage and trauma unflinchingly written on the page, making us feel every impact? Or would it be emotion-driven horror, like Only the stains remain? What did Ross have in store for us this time?
This book, more than any other book produced by Ross, has an overwhelming accent of "Englishness" running through it, in my opinion (and I'm English too, remember). Now I get that Ross is English – and this is based in England (as opposed to Tome and Juniper and Scorched, which seem more American in their delivery). And herein lies, for me, something of a quandary I had when reading it (which I'll try to explain below). The situation Ross paints here is complex – a couple overcoming grief and trying to save their marriage are confronted with a child, having “saved” her from the sea from a weird horned cocoon type "birthing bag". They basically decide to “keep her”, and ignore or downplay or actively misremember the situation in which they found her, and that found child’s attachment to them grows deeper, though, through Ross' narrative and the main character's perception of that event, it is clear it is “wrong” and “abnormal”.
I won’t go into what type of creature she is, I figured it out, and I think you will too, and it’s not a reveal in a sense, it’s quite clear, given her constant mumbling and noise-making – but I struggled with the lengths the characters went to oversee and ignore details of her arriving to them and how she started to infiltrate their lives. Some of that was written as if the characters figured they had been mistaken – which for me, in the real world, in real life, almost never happens – I know what I see, I know what I hear, and I know I will defend those opinions and experiences till I am blue in the face. To trick yourself into thinking – “well maybe I did see that wrong…” or “Maybe I remembered it wrong…” has, quite frankly, almost never occurred in my life. I am adamant about most details in my life. I assume everyone is. I guess I am saying I don’t doubt my own memory. I get other people might do that, but not to events as they happen or just happened. I also understand that the child’s influence is designed to do just that – confuse and suggest otherwise. I think I just didn’t believe it, and that made it frustrating. Having seen exactly this happen in other English books, it seems something of an “English forgetfulness” (I hesitate to use the word…) trope. Characters willingly convince themselves of mistaken experiences. A kind of “that can’t have been right?” moment of enforced doubt.
Is that just my reading of it?
Anyway. I was frustrated and unfortunately that lasted throughout the book due to the very nature of the creature involved. There were elements such as the weapon that the child/creature knew was the only way they could stop her influence and eradicate (kill her) the problem (if the knife was coated with the wife’s blood), which the child/creature then used in a way that ensured it would be coated with the wife’s blood and would be left lying around as the child herself was incapacitated... which seemed – unlikely. It pushed the boundaries of my willingness to believe in the events. If the child knew exactly the possibility of what the knife could be used for (and she did, she could read thoughts. She knew), it wouldn’t have taken any effort to get any of the main protagonists to dispose of the knife in the sea and use, well, anything else, to do what she did.
The grief element here is good, the emotional arguing and examination of their (the characters) own feelings and the perceptions of each other’s feelings steal the show. I think that everyone that has commented on the book has highlighted exactly those things as what drives the book, and they are right to do so. It is well written, the emotional attempts to understand and commiserate with another person’s experiences of grief, show love, compassion, and trust. They rightly steal the show. There’s a great moment with a knife and a hand (that I wanted to be a little nastier, but Ross reigned in the gore in this book. I get that it’s not the horror of this book, which is emotional horror, I just wish a finger or two could have been sacrificed for the greater good :D ) that will have you genuinely uncomfortable, similar to Hightower's "Crossroads", with the possibility of self-mutilation being enforced on a main character. Great stuff. It's just balanced against things like the main character thinking an urn is much lighter than normal but who doesn't open the urn to look inside? Hmm. It's obvious actions that aren't taken here that frustrated me.
I was hard-pressed to rate this one, I think I’m going to settle on rounding up to 4 stars for Goodreads. It entertained me, but it also frustrated me, and that’s a hard balance to equate.
My thanks go to both Ross Jeffery and Andrew Fowlow from Dark Lit, for providing me with an ARC in return for an honest review.
You can buy The Devil's Pocketbook, by clicking on the appropriate Amazon link below:
You can visit Ross' Website, HERE.
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You can subscribe to Ross' Substack (newsletter), HERE.