Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I by Charles F. French is a horror novel that mixes elements of paranormal suspense with historical fiction. In the relatively sleepy town of Bethberg, Pennsylvania, the Investigative Paranormal Society (IPS) team (Roosevelt, Sam, and Jeremy) search out strange happenings, then debunk them or dispel disgruntled spirits, as appropriate.
In the series’ debut novel, the IPS faces off against its toughest opponent yet: a demon named Maledicus. Once a proud (and depraved) Roman citizen, Maledicus now delights in bringing terror to the living. When Maledicus targets a young girl and her aunt, the IPS must stop him before he can devour their souls.
Before I dive into my review, I want to add two quick disclaimers. First, as always, I’ll be keeping the content details vague to avoid any spoilers. Second, I’m inclined to note that I received an advance copy of this novel. Therefore, it might have gone through further revision before publication (thus rendering some of my comments moot).
One of my most important concerns for paranormal novels is whether the story follows “the rules of its world.” Maledicus does exactly that. The paranormal content is believable within the story and “the rules” remain consistent throughout. French uses vivid language to bring the paranormal activity and demon Maledicus to life, which makes the scary moments all the more chilling for the reader. Without spoiling anything, the plot follows a clear trajectory, contains a great balance of action and quiet suspense, and reaches a satisfying conclusion.
Though the plot itself remains rather linear, the narrative structure of Maledicus jumps back and forth between different times, locations, and character perspectives. At first, I found this a bit odd to read. Like many classic novels, the narrative often reads more like the author is telling a story, rather than the reader is in the moment with the characters. However, once I adjusted to this style, it did flow rather well.
French offers the readers chapter flashbacks into the human life of the demon Maledicus (which makes him all the more despicable), as well as mini flashbacks within scenes that feature the IPS team. These are clearly given to add depth to the characters and succeed in that goal. However, personally, I would have preferred for the scenes featuring the IPS team members to stay in the present day, with hints at backstory peppered throughout. Of course, this might have just been my impatience to see if/how the evil Maledicus would be defeated!
As for the characters themselves, I found them to be well-rounded and distinct personalities. In particular, appreciated that they are mostly middle-aged to elderly, as I believe literature needs more diverse/fewer stereotypical representations of “older” characters. Roosevelt is the classic gentlemen, while Sam feels every bit the ex-cop (and jokester), and Jeremy perfectly fits his role as the more introverted one of the group. The main side characters are equally well-developed and compelling – I especially liked Helen’s passion for learning, dedication to her family/students, and unwavering bravery.
My only criticisms with the characters are that sometimes the dialogue came off a bit stiff and that I felt they were over-described. Many physical and emotional details were repeated multiple times, and while that is always a writing no-no, it was superfluous with such distinct characters.
Overall, I enjoyed reading Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I. Horror in plot, paranormal/historical in details, and literary in narrative style, it’s a well-crafted debut novel with compelling characters and a nice balance of action and quiet suspense. Recommended for readers who like ghost stories, history, and cozy mystery.
Charles F. French was kind enough to contribute a guest post to accompany my review, where he discusses the theme of evil in Maledicus. Check it out here. If you’d like to read Maledicus, pick up your copy from Amazon.