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The Devil in Siliver by Victor LaValle (2012)

Pepper is committed against his will to a mental hospital after being arrested, because the cops don’t want to bother with the paperwork. There, he discovers that some kind of monster–a man with the head of a bison–is stalking the patients, coming down through the ceiling in the middle of the night. After a couple of deaths, Pepper gathers together his fellow inmates to track down this devil on the abandoned second floor. Certainly, there are shades of the minotaur and the labyrinth here.

But all is not as it seems on the surface. The staff are aware of the monster and even protect him. Perhaps he isn’t a monster at all, but just a man, another one of them. And as Pepper gradually gets to know the other patients, he realizes that a) they are, indeed, mentally ill, and b) the mental health system is failing them all.

This is not so much a horror story as an indictment of the bureaucratic New York City mental health system–although the horror really lies in Pepper’s situation, being confined to such a place for no apparent reason and with no immediate way to get out. LaValle draws his characters carefully, showing them as human while making their mental illnesses seem real. The choice of narrative voice is an interesting and engaging one; although there is no narrator character, the story is told in a folksy, conversational way, like a story heard in a bar, complete with humorous asides. Though this was not a scary book, it was a gripping one.

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