Legion, by William Peter Blatty

The Exorcist is one of those books that I wish I could read for the first time again. It’s been almost a year since I first read it and some parts still haunt me. I’ve even watched the movie once or twice again since then, and I’ve come to appreciate the story’s impact on horror. So you can imagine my joy when I saw that William Peter Blatty had another novel set in the Exorcist universe called Legion.

Set twelve years after The Exorcist, detective lieutenant Bill Kinderman is still solving cases in Georgetown, Washington D.C. This time, he is faced with the murder of a twelve-year-old boy, found crucified to a makeshift cross. He finds himself pondering the nature of God and evil as, soon, a priest is found murdered in the nearby church. After a second priest is killed, Kinderman retraces these murders back to a notorious Georgetown criminal called the Gemini Killer, long thought dead. But the truth behind these murders is far darker, and much closer to home, than Kinderman could have imagined.

It would probably be impossible for Mr. Blatty to reproduce the same horrific magic with this book. Kinderman is a compelling main character, the murders are gruesome and effective, and the suspense is engaging. However, it is just not as tightly written as its predecessor.

Kinderman is described as eccentric, and his colleagues do not always follow his train of thought. But several times throughout, Kinderman goes on these ramblings about the most irrelevant things. Once, when he and his assistant Atkins are observing a crime scene, Kinderman just starts sermonizing about birds and bugs and evolution and it just does not add much. A little bit of talking, just to show Kinderman’s knowledge about the concept, would be fine. But he just keeps going and going and going.

That’s not to say that The Exorcist did not have a few side tangents here and there. But those tangents were interesting and gave perspective to Regan’s odd and violent behavior. They were some of my favorite parts of that book. But when Kinderman talks for paragraphs and paragraphs about the same thing, seemingly in an unawares trance, you lose track of what the point of the scene even is. You wonder why Atkins didn’t go Monty Python and the Holy Grail on him and yell “GET ON WITH IT!”

William Peter Blatty is all about the details, but his writing is almost at a Dickensian level of unnecessary here. We randomly jump from Kinderman’s perspective to that of Vince Amfortas, a doctor at the Georgetown hospital where Kinderman does most of his investigating. Of all the other suspects in the case, he gets the most attention even though he is not the most interesting in the lineup. There is a long, long, long sequence where Vince describes recording the voices of the dead on cassette tapes, and it does not play into the rest of the story. Sure, he is melancholy and apathetic because he could not treat his dead wife’s meningitis, but what about the other doctor who hypnotizes the senile psychiatric patients to help them “recover,” but really does it for his own sick pleasure? That character deserved the same kind of attention.

Even the supernatural aspects of the story feel a little convoluted.

First of all, the Gemini Killer is thought to have died several years prior, but he miraculously comes back to kill again. Then, when Kinderman meets the Killer, he turns out to be another person that everyone thought was dead, whom the Killer possessed through the help of a vengeful demon. 

It all seemed a little too melodramatic and unnecessary. Leave the character that died alone and just have the Gemini Killer work with the demon by himself. 

On the whole, the story was definitely more mystery thriller than horror. And certainly, nothing in here was as gruesome or shocking as The Exorcist

Still, there were some good scenes. Vince has a creepy scene with a double in a mirror, and the Gemini Killer’s backstory is effective. And there are a few tie-ins to the previous book, such as hypnosis having possibly played a role in someone’s behavioral changes, and Father Kerras, one of Regan’s exorcists, making appearances. But the whole thing is not as compact as it could have been.

I want to emphasize that this is not a bad book. I read the whole book in a day because Blatty’s writing is still engrossing and he does give Kinderman a few interesting things to meditate on, even if he takes those topics and sprints with them. I would still say give it a read if you really like Blatty’s work and are curious (especially if you are interested in seeing The Exorcist III, which is based on this book and Blatty himself directed). But for me, this book will probably fade away in a year or so, where The Exorcist will continue to mesmerize and haunt.

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