The Horror Honeys: Hardcover Honey's Haunted Bookclub ~ Beat the Devil

Hardcover Honey's Haunted Bookclub ~ Beat the Devil

Book of the Week Review by Jocelyn

Beat the Devil – Scott Siegel 

This week's review is short and sweet as your Hardcover Honey delves into a childhood favorite, “Beat the Devil” (not to be confused with “Beat the Reaper”, a terrific book your Hardcover Honey enjoyed much more recently).  As part of the “Dark Forces” series, “Beat the Devil”, published in the Internet-free days of 1983, enthralled me as a kid, along with others in this series, including “The Doll” and “The Game”.  The plan for this week was to review all three books together, however, only “Beat the Devil” has arrived in a timely manner from my Amazon reseller, thus it'll be a stand-alone, to be followed by the other two in short order.

Dark Forces was a series of scary books for little horror hounds like me back in the early 80's, which means that it preceded the much more successful Goosebumps series by several years.  There look to have been just 15 books in this series, but after a recent Horror Honeys podcast discussion reminded me of how much they held my interest as a kid, I knew I was due for a re-read.

I re-read “Beat the Devil” on a road trip this weekend to exotic Wichita, Kansas (MUCH more fun than you'd expect) and it lived up to my memories in a lot of ways.  I remembered clearly that it was about a high-school boy obsessed with video games who finds himself drawn into a particularly vivid and disturbing game called “Beat the Devil” - his growing obsession with it threatens his relationships and maybe even his soul <DUM DUM DUM - insert ominous music here>.

As the book kicks off, we meet Doug, his best friend Warren, and his trusty girlfriend Maura.  They are hanging out at the local arcade (for you millennials, an “arcade” is where you used to have to go to play video games.  I know, right??) where Doug rules.  His friends are wishing they could tear him away from the arcade long enough to catch a movie, but Doug usually wants to stay and play.  Great news though!  As it turns out, Doug's dad is getting a home computer installed!  Yes, so he can do some work at home when needed.  And he has told Doug that he would install a few games for him.  Now Doug will be able to play games at home whenever he wants to!  They are less than thrilled to hear it but try to be supportive.  On the way home, Doug is itching to buy his first game, but the stores are all closed.  All, that is, but one, an interesting new store that seems to have sprung up from nothing in what used to be a boarded-up old building (aside from my 8 year-old, Sir Bookworm - “Hey it's like the Chocolate Touch!” which is very true and another fun read about getting what you think you always wanted and finding out it's not all you hoped and dreamed it would be).  In the store, Doug meets the tall, dark and bony proprietor, who sells him the only game they carry, “Beat the Devil” (nope, nothing weird going on here).  Doug immediately gets home and starts to play.  The game itself, though described in florid terms, seems pretty basic by today's standards – steer your little white heart through fire and tiny pitchforks until you reach a level wherein the devil appears, at which point you have to hit him in the eyes with two bolts of lightning in order to win the game.  Easy, right?

Doug thinks so, anyway, and is astonished to discover how difficult the game is.  He stays up hours past his bedtime playing and losing and playing and losing, trying to ignore an odd tingling in his hands that sets in.  Soon, he starts acting all roid ragey at school, fighting with Warren and forgetting to call Maura when he promised.  He even almost misses out on a group date with the two and a cousin from California who is hilariously given a ton of implausible Valley Girl-speak that would have fallen flat even to my 9 year old ears in 1983.  On the group date (ice skating) Doug is amazed that none of his friends can see the skater dressed all in black who knocks him down twice, laughing.  Eventually Doug has to undergo counseling (despite assuring the school counselor that he's “no fruitcake”) and his compulsion to play the game, even in the middle of the night, grows, to the point where his dad locks up the game disk.  When a mysterious tall, bony repairman fixes the computer to run without the disk, Doug is thrilled.  All he has to do is follow the command on the screen “Locate the 6 on the keyboard and strike it three times” and he will back in business!  By this point I was laughing out loud and describing the action to my husband and son.  I won't spoil the climax of the book for you, except to say that I had completely blocked out the religious aspect of it and now I am wondering if the other two books I ordered will have a similar bent.  Was I being indoctrinated as a kid when all I wanted was to be scared?  Hmmmm.

I will say one more thing about this book – it was really awfully prescient about the absorption of kids into their games.  It struck me as somewhat ironic that I had to keep making my son press pause on his endless Minecraft efforts on the iPad so I could read him passages from a book about a kid possessed by a demonic video game.  I guess if he starts manhandling his friends and having visions of the devil, I should probably re-read “Beat the Devil” yet again.

It's hard to rate this one even a little bit objectively.  As a horror book, it doesn't 100% hold up – but it's well-written for what it is, and if you're looking for something to entertain, say, your 9 year old, you could do worse.  So, 3 tiny devils out of 5 for this fun trip down memory lane.