Book Review: Terry M. West’s ‘The Devil’s List’ is At the Top

terry m west the devil's list book review
Courtesy of Terry M. West

We all have a demon inside. Or, on our left shoulder. Or, that we picked up at the site of some horrible event. We’ve all wanted to murder someone. Right? For a second or two? We think about it. Some of us entertain it further through fantasy. But there’s something that holds us back from carrying out our deepest vicious desires. Until we meet the Plat-Eye. It doesn’t take much to resist, but when you’re the victim of your own loved ones, its easier to give in. In Terry M. West’s book, The Devil’s List, Charles Richard Beall gave in, and I can’t blame him.

Charles goes by Chuck. It’s hinted that he may be a schizophrenic. The one person in his family who cared enough about him to treat him is gone. She was in denial anyway. Chuck’s own mother suffered from schizophrenia, and she probably didn’t want to suffer alone.

Disclaimer: A lot of layman psychobabble goes around these days, so I use these terms with the full understanding my assessments may land in the realm of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I read one in a book. I never played one on TV.

Chuck is a psychopath at worst and a sociopath at best, but he’s empathic, so is he just a narcissist, or is he surrounded by them? His ability to show empathy is clear from the beginning with how he shows love for his Paw Paw. The demon Plat-Eye isn’t present for certain killings, and it makes you wonder about Chuck’s motives. Is he a killer who has an unquenchable blood-thirst, or is he just good at killing because of the demon inside with the unquenchable bloodthirst? He takes the game outside of his normal boundaries, and it is there you see his humanity. It’s there you see the victim of circumstance and life-long abuse. Physical abuse. Emotional abuse. Peer abuse. People can only take so much before the cracks are big enough for the demons to get inside. Terry M. West is a master at making these cracks believable and real. He’s a master of making you feel for the protagonist who also happens to be a villain. West makes you empathize with the bad guys. It’s something of which most writers of horror are incapable.

The Devil’s List takes place in the fictional town of Pleasant Storm, Texas. Chuck Beall lost an eye as a child. His disfigurement has been the bane of everyone around him ever since. His psychopathic family and his cruel classmates have nailed the characteristic on him like a Scarlet Letter. His heart bleeds for those around him who show the slightest love, but there are few who see him as someone worthy of care. His mother is gone, and now so is Paw Paw. And Paw Paw wasn’t really all that nice to begin with. His mother abused him by neglecting his mental health. The rest of his family is either ghosting him or straight up deriding him. Look inward, Chuck. The patterns around you are yours to change. The demon inside wants to lay blame. But the demon wants sport. Chuck just wants validation. Chuck comes to the easily deniable realization that he’s been feared his whole life. The reason he’s so unloved is because he’s the demon. But the reason he’s the demon is because he’s so unloved. He’s a perfect character. He lives in a world that doesn’t understand him and doesn’t want to understand him. We’ve all been there, but he’s stuck in that abyss. As West writes, “Chuck was a hostage in his own body.”

Serial killer stories are often too contrived to believe and only serve to satisfy a hunger for gore. As much as I’ve read from Terry M. West, I don’t remember ever feeling squeamish or eye-rolly. He doesn’t design his scene descriptions to shock you. The violence is there, but he’s in the mind of his killer. He never assumes the mind of the reader. Death in The Devil’s List comes from a place of justified reasoning instead of gratuitous pleasure. Instead of high definition macros with details on how each blood droplet lands, West puts us in the head of the killer himself. The killer is not fascinated by the macabre he creates. The killer is only concerned with why he’s doing what he’s doing, and how he’s going to reconcile the savagery with his own humanity. That’s where you want to be if you want to immerse yourself.

Of course, as our demons would have it, we are tormented along with Chuck. His small town view of the world makes him a homophobic racist who considers himself “tolerant” of lifestyles and people he doesn’t understand. There’s a fine line there that West walks. He’s careful to bottle these real life issues of hate within the characters and narration. As readers, we’re going to take what we see in our own respective worlds and apply it to the story. Allowing the protagonist to have these flaws makes him less likable, but more real. The cracks are apparent early, but somehow Chuck remains a character we can relate to despite his loathable traits. We understand that his limited ability to function in the world due to the pressures and abuse around him may have even suppressed his own sexuality. The character himself would argue that he only likes girls because he’s fucked them, even dead ones; but he’s outraged at his own mechanical response to male touch. His disgust with himself is brought to the forefront when he is berated by the demon inside. He can’t self-hate. He chooses to hate others because it’s easier and he can blame it on the Plat-Eye.

The African-American origins of the Plat-Eye lore are inspired from real life just as Chuck’s rampage is inspired from real life. West grew up in Texas where Ricky Lee Green brutally murdered a seemingly patternless variety of people. His victims met their ends up close and personal like the Plat-Eye would have wanted.

The opening quote in the book says it all. “We are each our own devil, and we make this world our own hell.” —Oscar Wilde

Available now on Amazon as a paperback or audio book. It’s a great listen. Read by Paul Burt, who does an outstanding job of voicing the characters. He keeps the pace of the story with an adaptable voice that portrays Chuck’s devolution in a way that compliments West’s exceptional writing.

Available on Kindle May 29, 2020. You can visit the author page here.

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