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The Hand of the Devil    by Dean Vincent Carter order for
Hand of the Devil
by Dean Vincent Carter
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The Prologue of The Hand of the Devil - set in 1932 Zaire - is guaranteed to catch and hold reader attention. But the best is yet to come. Ashley Reeves is a journalist for the Missing Link magazine. He receives a letter from Reginald Mather, who claims to possess the Ganges Red of the Aedes aegypti mosquito family - 'the only one of its kind'. Ashley sees an opportunity for a story, but little does he know the nightmare he will face.

Ashley begins his narration in London, in September 2005, after his experiences on remote Aries Island. Ash is in a state of wonder that he survived the ordeal, writing, 'This account is of an extraordinary creature ... so dangerous that if it had been able to reproduce, it could have wiped us all from the face of the earth.' Reginald Mather's letter provided directions to the island, as well as a codicil: 'I must ask for your discretion in this matter. I am keen to share my discovery with the world, but being a private man I need to keep certain details to myself ... you should not divulge the specifics of this letter to a third party.' However, Ash needs his editor's approval, and also advises his heart's-eye, the magazine's photographer Gina, of his plans.

Reeves arrives by train at Tryst, north of London, where he engages a sorry-looking excuse of 'a boat-shaped pile of driftwood' with a motor. With the threat of impending rain, and curious warnings from the strange-acting harbormaster, Reeves takes his chances. En route to the island, the sky reverberates with a loud noise, announcing the arrival of a soaking deluge, and obscuring his vision. 'It seemed unfair that the thick, gray clouds should gather above the lake and nowhere else', Reeves thought nearing the shore. There the boat collided with a rock, and shattered into pieces. Reeves walks to land in waist-deep water, his cell phone now unusable, 'breaking him off from civilization'. Trudging forward, Reeves faces a low, gray-brick bungalow, obviously of hasty construction.

Reeve hoped to return that same evening to the mainland, but the weather grows more dismal, forcing him to stay overnight. Reeves learns that Mather was a surgeon at Charing Cross Hospital, and retired early to pursue his fondness for entomology. Perusing Mather's bookshelves, Reeves is drawn to an eye-catching title, Her Story by R. H. Occum. 'The front cover featured a pentagram with a mosquito in its center ... and a unique typeface'. Examining the book, Reeves notes the very large mosquito is 'attacking screaming people', and that the book 'is a collection of tales about a fabled creature known as the Devil's Hand'. Mather responds to his query with a question, 'Have you ever heard of the legend of Nhan Diep?' This story from old Vietnam tells of a young woman, her husband Ngoc Tam, and genie Tien Thai.

Mather refuses Reeves' request to see the Ganges Red (which he calls the Lady): 'I'm afraid it isn't a good idea to disturb her at this hour. I fed her not long ago and she's always a little irritable after feeding time. Best if we tackle that tomorrow.' He tells Reeves he will see 'a too-large creature to be considered a freak of nature', that's been spotted in various locations over many centuries, is said to be immortal, and is worshiped by many cultures. When Reeves inquires as to the insect's name, Mather explains that 'the first sighting of her, albeit unsubstantiated, was near the city of Varanasi on the left bank of the Ganges over eighteen hundred years ago.' When Ash finally meets the Lady, she's in a glass tank behind a wall panel. Her keeper advises the journalist that it's believed that she possesses the ability to communicate. Though Mather refuses to allow Reeves to take photographs, the journalist is determined to do so.

The reader also learns of Mather's prior life as a surgeon, when he removed organs for his studies, along with a peer named Alexander Soames, and how Mather came into possession of the remote island. There's an ages-old, still living Yemen dragonfly, and a cat, Mr. Hopkins, that Mather calls 'The rather scruffy bane of my existence'. As Reeves tours the island, he comes upon unusual buildings, with old signs reading 'Lake Languor Research Center / Aries Island/ No Trespassing'. Just when the story seems to quieten, it shrieks again - even more loudly, many times over, prompting the heart to race a mite faster. The storyline is excellent, with consistent gripping suspense and a building momentum. The flow of action keeps the reader in step with the protagonist, looking eagerly forward to the unraveling of the following pages, and to delectably bizarre stories within a story.

In his brief bio, the author writes of himself: 'Dean Vincent Carter is a shadowy, fleeting character who works in the basement of Random House UK, sorting mail. He claims to have seen so many dark and inexplicable things in his life that a career in horror writing was inescapable.' In his acknowledgments, Carter cites one source of reference - Mosquito: The Story of Man's Deadliest Foe by Andrew Spielman and Michael D'Antonio. I recommend The Hand of the Devil as a fabulous, itchy, horror story, best taken in hand when hours are available to absorb it in one or two sittings, but definitely not during mosquito season! Carter's book is appropriate for both young adult and adult audiences.

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