Book Review: Dead Souls: A Novel By J. Lincoln Fenn
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Dead Souls: A Novel
Paperback | Kindle
By J. Lincoln Fenn
Publisher: Gallery Books
Release date: September 20, 2016

School shootings, terrorist attacks, mothers who murder their children … this is the Devil’s work. But the Devil has some help on Earth from his selective, yet ever-increasing group of “Dead Souls” — people who have sold their souls and now owe a favor to the lord of the underworld in exchange for having their greatest wish granted.

In J. Lincoln Fenn‘s Dead Souls, Fiona Dunn is one of those Dead Souls.

Before signing away her soul, the young woman had been a successful marketing manager at a high-end backpack company. She had joked that the third level of Hell was reserved for marketers, never suspecting that she’d soon put herself in a position to eventually find out if that’s true.

One fateful, stormy night, Fiona witnesses her loving boyfriend of two years, Justin, leave town with another woman. This betrayal brings up the painful memories of the childhood abuse and neglect she suffered at the hands of her drug-addict parents, a life she tries hard to forget (with the help of Xanax and wine). Soon after, Fiona finds herself barefoot and wet at a bar, and it’s while scheming there for food and drinks that she meets Scratch. Scratch, he says, is just a nickname, as Americans find his real name too difficult to pronounce. The charismatic man inserts himself next to vulnerable Fiona, and they strike up a conversation. After a while, she thinks perhaps he’s in sales, but nope. “I’m the Devil,” he says outright. Thinking Scratch is joking, Fiona goes along with the bit, revealing to this stranger what she wants and, yeah, sure, she’d give up her soul in exchange for it. It’s not like she believes in souls anyhow – she’s an Atheist, after all.

Well, perhaps Fiona should have realized that you don’t have to believe that something exists for it to actually exist.

She discovers that there’s more people like her, and they gather in AA-type support meetings, nervously awaiting the day when the Devil will call in their favor. And that favor? Well, it won’t be an easy one.

Dead Souls is told in the first person from Fiona’s point of view, so in the beginning, we learn about her upbringing, her highly competitive career, and her relationship with Justin. And while she’d not a bad person, per se, she’s certainly not a good person either. She’s not your typical heroine. She’s smart and interesting, which keeps the reader along for the ride, but that doesn’t mean you’re actually rooting for her to win out in the end. In fact, part of the allure of this book is the wonder of how this woman, who’s done some shitty things, is going to get hers. There’s times you forget that something horrible is bound to happen. But what starts out as a more intellectual and less superficial episode of something like Sex and the City eventually turns into Hannibal, and morbid curiosity gives way to true horror.

Fenn takes the classic “deal with the Devil” theme that explores humanity’s temptations and desires, and weaves an intriguing page-turner with a twist for the modern world.

Postscript: On the night I wrote this review, I had a nightmare involving the events of the book, particularly the ending, where I too had the same power that the Devil granted Fiona. Now, I’ve watched horror movies/TV shows my whole life, and have read my fair share of the genre, but this is one of the only times I can remember where I finished a book and that same night had a nightmare about it! Upon waking, I felt that the vibe of the first half of the book and how it was a quick-read must have given me a false sense of security, because how it all culminated was quite disturbing and obviously lingered with me. And this being only Fenn’s second book, I’m quite impressed and will definitely be picking up her debut novel, 2013’s Poe (which went on to win the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror).

From the award-winning author of the acclaimed novel Poe comes an edgy and bone-chilling new novel.

When Fiona Dunn is approached in a bar by a man who claims he’s the devil, she figures it’s just some kind of postmodern-slash-ironic pickup line. But a few drinks in, he offers her a wish in exchange for her immortal soul, and in addition, Fiona must perform a special favor for him whenever the time comes. Fiona finds the entire matter so absurd that she agrees. Bad idea. Not only does Fiona soon discover that she really was talking to the devil incarnate, but she’s now been initiated into a bizarre support group of similar “dead souls”””those who have done the same thing as Fiona on a whim, and who must spend their waking hours in absolute terror of that favor eventually being called in…and what exactly is required from each of them in order to give the devil his due.

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