When I found Joshua Graham’s novella The Accidental Exorcist (2013, Joshua Graham) on Amazon.com I felt compelled to read it. The subject of possession has intrigued me since high school when I read William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist (1971, William Peter Blatty) for the first time. (I slept with the lights and the closet doors open for a week—my parents were so ticked off.)
California forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abigail Lee is used to interviewing murder suspects who are going for the not guilty by reason of insanity plea. They are also more than likely guilty of the crime. Rarely does she find a suspect truly criminally insane, yet she always hears them out. Abby rethinks her ideas about the insane and the guilty after interviewing Cheryl Morgan, a mother of three who admits killing her children but doesn’t know why. During the interview, Cheryl’s demeanor transforms from a woman wrought with guilt and anger to something wicked and unfamiliar. Despite her fears, Abby decides Cheryl’s actions are not unusual. Abby has seen many personae emerge during interviews over the years in both the legitimately insane and those who faked it. Still, Abby felt like there was something disturbing about Cheryl that she had not seen before.
Cheryl is eventually acquitted of her crimes. About two years after her release, Cheryl is tied to another murder. Abby, who thinks of herself as open-minded in her pursuit of knowledge, decides to research all possible explanations for Cheryl’s strange behavior. In her search for a rational explanation, Abby discovers there’s much more going on with Cheryl than insanity. Torn between her belief in scientific facts and her faith, Abby must battle her own demons before she can help Cheryl.
The Accidental Exorcist has multiple strengths for sure, but Graham’s description of possession—of transforming one’s soul from innocence to profound evil—is superb. I found myself totally creeped out by Cheryl’s transformation from a sad and confused woman to that of the powerful and dominating Legion. Graham’s descriptive scenes not only capture the helplessness and the total despair of those haunted by demons but also in the awakening of non-believers. Minor characters like Freidrich Koehler, the professor at UCSD, and Sergeant Grimes, the prison guard, set the stage for the action that follows. I felt emotionally attached to Abby as she pursued Cheryl’s case and in her struggle to accept and embrace a reality other than one grounded in scientific fact.
The story opens with a short prelude followed by non-stop action that continues until the end of the story. I found myself wrapped up in each scene completely captivated but wanting more. My only criticism is that The Accidental Exorcist is too short. The background, the characters, and the scenes that lead to Abby’s awakening deserve a much larger stage. Still, The Accidental Exorcist is an excellent read.
The Accidental Exorcist
By Joshua Graham
Dawn Treader Press (2013), Kindle edition, 69 pp., $2.99