Eyes in the Walls, by David V. Stewart

Thursday , 19, December 2019 1 Comment

Merry Christmas! What better way to spend this joyous season than by curling up beside the fire with a cup of hot chocolate and…a dark horror novel? 

Stick with me here. Maybe December makes for the perfect season for a horror novel. Now, when the nights are longest and the weather coldest and nature has gone to bed for the year, might be a better time to experience a bit of darkness before the light shines on Christmas once more. Maybe the contrast between everything merry and bright adds to the darkness of the shadows. Maybe it’s always a good time to be reminded of our own fragility in this hostile universe in which we live. Or maybe you’re just a horror fan who feels that it’s never a bad time to read something creepy.

Whichever category you fall into, you’re going to want to pick up a copy of David V. Stewart’s Eyes in the Walls. In addition to navigating the rocky shoals of his parents’ acrimonious divorce and the usual stresses of puberty and public schooling, Billy’s daily routine includes spending his afternoons in a funeral home. He’s a decent kid, Billy, and of an age where he faces that fork in the road between the self-destructive choices of ‘the wrong crowd’ and the more respectable paths laid down by the expectations of the adults that surround him. Which makes him particularly vulnerable to the demons he faces before the turn of the last page.

As a horror novel featuring a protagonist in his early teens, Eyes in the Walls makes good use of many of the usual tricks of the trade, but does so with a deft touch. The broken home and the skeptical adults at school and church are vital to isolating Billy from assistance from that quarter. And yet, David doesn’t shy from painting these adults with a sympathetic brush. The clueless priest means well, and does everything in his power to help. In his own way, he does help Billy find a way through the horror. Likewise with a school principal who understands that Billy is going through something devastating, and provides a rare safe haven from which Billy can recover his senses, even if the principal doesn’t truly understand the nature of the threat. Even his parents avoid a cartoonish characterization, with a mother distracted by what looks to her like vandalism of her funeral home and a father burned out by the ravages of a hostile divorce and struggling to muster the energy to make the best of the situation for his son.

That grounding in a real world filled with real characters who are trying to help makes for a much more engaging read than most examples of the horror genre. A more cynical reader might take the realization that everyone’s private battles leave them little time to lend badly needed help to others as the real horror of the novel, were it not for the unsettling truth of the demons within the walls. And as a tightly packed novel at 117 words, David’s ability to touch on so many of the missing anchors in this modern world shines bright. In addition to the backdrop of divorce, David hits a discordant chord when he introduces that easy solution to troubled kids – psychotropic drugs that silence the child and the problem without addressing the underlying concern. That thread allows David to introduce some genuine doubt into the mind of both Billy and the reader as to whether the threat is real, or imagined, or some terrible combination of the two. His use of a priest as an authentic voice of reassurance rather than a paper-thin strawman clearly written to be the “real” bad guy also proves that a respect for religion is not antithetical to the genre. And his introduction of a girl who is just as uncertain as Billy and fumbling her own way through middle-school, puppy love, and a crush on a clearly troubled friend makes for a warm and relatable romantic subplot that never overwhelms the major narrative. That grounding in a real world filled with real characters who are trying to help makes for a much more engaging read than most examples of the horror genre. A more cynical reader might take the realization that everyone’s private battles leave them little time to lend badly needed help to others as the real horror of the novel, were it not for the unsettling truth of the demons within the walls.

And as a tightly packed novel at 117 words, David’s ability to touch on so many of the missing anchors in this modern world shines bright. In addition to the backdrop of divorce, David hits a discordant chord when he introduces that easy solution to troubled kids – psychotropic drugs that silence the child and the problem without addressing the underlying concern. That thread allows David to introduce some genuine doubt into the mind of both Billy and the reader as to whether the threat is real, or imagined, or some terrible combination of the two. His use of a priest as an authentic voice of reassurance rather than a paper-thin strawman clearly written to be the “real” bad guy also proves that a respect for religion is not antithetical to the genre.

The result is a taut narrative that blends the best elements of a gang of teens fighting monsters with the inner turmoil of a strong point-of-view character, and blends it with some genuinely disturbing encounters with the extra-normal.

This isn’t the first David V. Stewart novel to grace the Castalia House blog with a review, and given how his authorial voice continues to grow and deepen, Eyes in the Walls is unlikely to be the last. If he continues to improve so dramatically, he will be an author to watch in the coming years. 

One Comment
  • Caderly says:

    Good review! I really liked Stewart´s recent book The City of Silver so I will probably buy this novel.

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