Friend of the Devil by Stephen Lloyd

This singular novel of teenaged hijinks, a mysterious missing book, potentially profound evil and PTSD is wry, shockingly violent, philosophical and laugh-out-loud funny.

Stephen Lloyd’s Friend of the Devil offers a captivating blend of madcap mischief, terrifying and gory malevolence and thoughtful ruminations on humanity. Gruesome, deadly serious and frequently hilarious, this novel is an unusual cocktail.

Sam Gregory works as an inspector for an insurance company, responsible for rooting out fraud or solving cases like this one: a valuable antique book gone missing from the library of Danforth Putnam, a snooty boarding school on an island off the coast of Massachusetts. A war veteran, Sam pops pills to clear his mind of the traumatic memories and bad dreams that haunt him. He feels only a jaded weariness at the privileged antics of the students (and for that matter, the staff), but dutifully searches for the missing volume, sure there’s nothing here but another case of a drug-addled teen or disgruntled employee.

Sam is so wrong. But on his way to shocking, elemental horrors, he (and readers) will meet magnetic characters like the indomitable Harriet (D&D dungeon master, student journalist, extreme nerd and loyal friend) and bitter, acerbic Dale (a charity case at Danforth, which no one will ever let him forget). Despite his initial impressions of the school, Sam will take away unexpected lessons from these and other inhabitants of the island. What haunts Danforth and its very special missing book will turn out to be seriously sinister, and by the time Sam approaches its true nature–supernatural, or simple human evil?–the stakes will be ultimate.

Sam’s sardonic wit and tough-guy demeanor impart a flavor of classic noir. Harriet, who moves swiftly and unstoppably from bullying victim to plucky heroine, is a pure pleasure. Lloyd, who is also a TV writer and producer (Modern Family; How I Met Your Mother), showcases a talent for description and rich sensory detail from the first pages, when readers meet the rarified denizens of Danforth, “a diverse group… in every way but one. They were all filthy rich.” His characters are colorful, lovable or repellant, and the almost casual facility with which he kills them off is impressive.

Lightning-paced and undeniably weird, this is not a tale for everyone, as it bounces around between witch hunting and mythical evils, teenaged betrayals, PTSD, petty crime, bloody violence and delightful dry humor. But for the right reader, Friend of the Devil‘s unusual brand of gore and laughs is wildly, wickedly entertaining and positively unforgettable.

This review originally ran in the March 4, 2022 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.

Rating: 7 Junior Mints.

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