Epeolatry Book Review: The Devil’s Pocketbook by Ross Jeffery
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Title: The Devil’s Pocketbook
Author: Ross Jeffery
Publisher: DarkLit Press
Genre: Occult Fantasy, Horror
Release date: 23rd May, 2023
Synopsis: Erik and Lara are in mourning for their daughter, who was born “incompatible with life”. To get away from their suffocating grief and the ever-present shadow their daughter has cast in their lives since passing, and desperately trying to recover their increasingly rocky relationship, they take a trip to the seaside town of Polperro, in Cornwall. But no sooner have they arrived, than they realize that their grief cannot be so easily eluded. Drawn to the waters, Erik and Lara discover a large Devil’s Pocketbook, and inside: the miracle child they could never have. Scylla.
This book was brilliant, but difficult to read. The grief woven into the pages is so palpable and raw that I had to take breaks just to breathe. Also, the skilled prose and well-crafted metaphors had me pausing to send screenshots to my writing group. Despite all these obstacles, I devoured this book in a couple of days.
A devil’s pocketbook is a strange looking egg sac that can wash up on shore. With its black, leathery exterior and horn-like protrusions, I can see where the nickname originates and what drew Jeffrey to write about what might be inside. Sometimes the best ideas come from seeing something strange in nature, and asking “What’s that all about?” In real life, the pocketbooks tend to house fish, but the one in this novel houses a young girl. Despite it obviously being a terrible idea, Lara, blinded by maternal need, and Erik, desperate to do anything to help Lara, decide to adopt the strange child into their home.
Despite their attempts at secrecy, the locals immediately know, and react strangely. Some encourage them, others try to intervene, but ultimately, it’s Erik who must solve this problem. While I guessed the riddle of the strange girl early on, the book doesn’t hinge on this mystery. Instead, it focuses on an intense battle of wills filled with some truly terrifying and gruesome scenes. The book is not for the faint-hearted. Scylla is a powerful foe.
I will avoid spoilers and let you solve Scylla’s mystery yourself, but I will say that the answer, and how Jeffrey explores this idea, was unique and I loved it. He takes a familiar trope and explores it in a new way.
Jeffrey is an amazing writer. I have, thankfully, never lost a child, but I could feel Erik’s agony. Also, I have very limited experience with the ocean and fishing, but I smelled the salt and the brine as I read. This book was unsettling, terrifying, depressing, and stayed with me long after I finished it. If you don’t find the subject matter triggering, then I fully recommend this book.
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Melody lives in Ontario, Canada and writes short, dark fiction. She has been published in several anthologies and online publications. In university, she studied Ancient Greek and Roman Studies and often infuses her work with elements of Greek mythology. She also loves reading, embroidery, and martial arts.