When a drunk Ted Conway is fired from his last-chance hotel job, his ever-patient wife Janet finally decides it may be time to take their three children and leave him. Ted has spiraled to a point where even his perfect teenage twins, Jared and Kim, can't stand him.
But then Ted's Aunt Cora, who never much liked him, dies in the Shreveport sanitarium which had been her home for years and inexplicably leaves Ted the family mansion, along with its bloody history of murder and mysterious disappearances. Another chance? Janet allows Ted to convince her that he can stop drinking, and that the mansion can be converted into an inn. Unfortunately, the Conway name is despised in St. Albans, and the new Conways meet opposition right from the start, not least from an obsessed Catholic priest, and also from Jake Cumberland, last descendant of the voodoo-practicing Conway servants.
Suddenly Janet detects a change in Ted, who becomes the husband she's missed for years. But why has Jared picked up all of Ted's worst qualities? Why has Jared and Kim's Twin Thing suddenly been silenced? And what of Father MacNeill's secretive attempt to deny Ted the zoning variance he needs to remodel the crumbling mansion?
Set aside superficial comparisons to Stephen King's classic The Shining it's Jared, the son, who appears to have succumbed to the mansion's supernatural influence. And the results are quite different. John Saul may not break any new ground here, but he has fashioned a slick, competent thriller in which deftly drawn characters must face the demons in their own lives to conquer that which claims the family's souls. That the list of survivors remains unpredictable to the end is testament to Saul's experienced approach, which has resulted in almost two dozen novels, many of them bestsellers. Not known as a stylist, Saul uses a straightforward, uncluttered voice to good effect. Told with narrative verve from a sliding point of view, and with a penchant for realistic teenage dialogue, The Right Hand of Evil is gripping and fast-paced.
Bill Gagliani is a librarian and writer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.