Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Legion, by William Peter Blatty

(hb; 1983: sequel to The Exorcist)

From the inside flap:

"A young boy, a deaf-mute, is found horribly murdered in a mock crucifixion. The kindly, aging detective assigned to the case sees it not only as a crime -- one that calls for all his skill and intuition as an investigator -- but as part of a a larger and more baffling mystery: whether or not a good god can exist if He tolerates such monstrous evil. Is the murderer the elderly woman who witnessed the crime? A neurologist who can no longer bear the pain life inflicts on its victims? A psychiatrist with a macabre sense of humor and a guilty secret? A mysterious mental patient, locked in silent isolation?

"As Lieutenant Kinderman follows a bewildering trail that links all these people, he confronts a new enigma at every turn. Why does each victim suffer the same dreadful mutilations? Why are two of the victims priests? Is there a connection between these crimes and another series of murders that took place twelve years ago -- and supposedly ended with the death of the killer?"


Caveat: there may be possible spoilers relating to The Exorcist in this review.

Twelve year after the events of The Exorcist -- Regan MacNeil's little-known demonic possession; the murder of Burke Dennings; and Damien Karras's suicide on the steep M Street/"Hitchcock Steps" -- multiple homicides rock the Georgetown area.

The murders are beyond-bizarre weird in their one-killer-consistent M.O.s; a gleefully-macabre wit is at bloody work here. Even more bizarre, their M.O.s are almost dead-on replications of the Gemini (read: Zodiac) Killer, who died years ago.

The more Lt. William Kinderman (still ruminating long on Natural, philosophical and religious tangents relating to the nature of evil) learns about the murders, the more they become linked to the Dennings/Karras deaths, cases that were filed away, but never officially solved: these new victims were not chosen at random, it seems.

Father Joseph Dyer, a mutual friend of Karras and Kinderman in The Exorcist, indirectly aids Kinderman in his investigation.

As Kinderman closes in on the killer, the more dangerous -- and crazier -- his life gets, as do the lives of those around him.

Author Blatty once again has crafted a novel that is landmark in its execution. Interplays of warmth (especially relating to Kinderman's interactions with others) dispel much of the cold, alien darkness of the murders, past and present. A sly, macabre wit not only informs the killer's M.O., but the novel itself -- many dark-hearted chuckles emanated from this reader as he burned through this book.

One nit: Kinderman's ruminations run really long at times. True, Blatty mentions that as Kinderman has aged, Kinderman has grown longer in his verbiage, but at times it's distracting. These ruminations relate to the events of Legion, fully lending their points (and Kinderman's personality) to the mood of the novel, but more than a few pages of these ideas could've been trimmed, without hurting the overall effect of the novel.

That minor nit aside, this spin-off novel not only continues the story begun in The Exorcist, but fully mutates into its own, distinctive work -- an equally-excellent, equally-shocking-blow-to-the-plexus sequel that is, ultimately, a crime and redemption tale.

Novel-author Blatty directed and scripted the resulting film. Released stateside as The Exorcist III on August 17, 1990, this underrated film starred George C. Scott as Lt. William Kinderman. Ed Flanders played Father Joseph Dyer. Brad Dourif provided the voice for The Gemini Killer. Jason Miller, who played Father Damien Karras in The Exorcist, played Patient X. Nicol Williamson played Father Morning. Scott Wilson played Dr. Temple.

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