“In the Devil’s Name” is the creditable first novel from Scottish author Dave Watson. The novel revolves around four young Scottish men whose end-of-high-school celebrations go horribly wrong. I came to the novel completely ignorant of the legend of Sawney Bean, but this in no way impeded my understanding of the story. Scottish readers will no doubt enjoy the spark of recognition, as well as appreciate the startling and original twist Watson puts on the old legend. Another strength of this novel is the superb use of setting, and the way the author gradually turns the idyllic Scottish countryside and sleepy small town into places of menace and terror.
Watson takes his time establishing his characters in the beginning, which means that the real action doesn’t set in until about a third of the way through. Readers will probably fall into two camps – they’ll either enjoy the slow build-up, the characters’ banter and the change in tone when things go pear-shaped for the young quartet, and will feel more empathy for the characters because of it, or they’ll get a little impatient with it. I fell into the latter camp, and felt the urge to take to the descriptions of crisp-purchasing and the drunken consumption of home-cooked meals with an editor’s red pen. I also found the first third somewhat misleading in that character that appears to be the main one actually isn’t.But like I said – personal taste. And that’s not to say that I didn’t engage with the characters. My favourite was the relatively minor player Sergeant Stephen Grace, an everyday hero who is far too familiar with the experience of facing one’s fears.
Slow build-up notwithstanding, this is no “quiet horror” story. Once the first vein is opened, the blood flows in buckets. The violence inflicted by humans and supernatural beings alike is graphic, gruesome, inventive…and integral to the plot and characterization.
In other words, the best kind of fictional violence.