In ‘Devil House’, John Darnielle blurs real crime with blood-soaked fiction – archyde

When novelist and singer-songwriter John Darnielle was finishing his second novel, “Universal Harvester” in 2015, he unexpectedly stumbled upon the inspiration for his next book.

As he finished writing for the day in a small office in Durham, North Carolina, he took a good look at the surrounding neighborhood and began to notice all the new construction and businesses that had been built around him. Over a decade ago, he drove through this very city and passed this same mall, which was then home to several dilapidated buildings, one of which served very briefly as an adult book and video store with a hand-drawn sign, he remembered.

“I started telling myself these stories about why there is no sign that the building existed anymore and what happened to it,” Darnielle said during a recent phone interview. “Sure, you could try digging up and finding old photos of him, but he became less of a ghost. Was nothing. So that was a source of inspiration for me when I started thinking about whole stories that take place in places that you can’t even prove exists anymore.”

Explore this idea through the character, Gage Chandler, who is a true crime writer, in Darnielle’s third novel, “Devil House,” which hits stores January 25.

In Darnielle’s novel, the true crime story in Chandler’s latest book takes place in Milpitas, California, where a pair of grisly murders took place inside an empty adult book and video store in the early 1980s. authorities blamed the tragedy on a satanic cult due to a spray-painted pentagram and some other questionable artwork on the premises, no arrests were ever made. Years later, the building where the bloody scene occurred is now a random home and Chandler moves there to fully immerse himself in his investigative narrative.

As he slowly removes the multiple circumstances that led to the murders, as well as physically removing the carpet and wallpaper from the house, suspects emerge and the evolution of the building begins to reveal itself. Darnielle also mixes a bit of nonfiction into the book, peppering the real-life murder of Marcy Renee Conrad in Milpitas in 1981, which inspired the 1986 crime drama “River’s Edge” starring Crispin Glover, Keanu Reeves and Dennis Hopper. In “Devil House,” Darnielle weaves the two stories together, explaining the town’s resentment of how she was portrayed in the film and the community’s reluctance to talk to Chandler about yet another tragedy that has rocked their worlds.

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