Rest in Agony
Paul W. Fairman | Lancer Books | 1967 | 223 pages
After the death of his uncle Ambrose, Hal Brent reflects upon the role his late relative played in his life—and tries to come to terms with the unusual relationship he is developing with his own sister Lisa. Hal’s parents are on the verge of revealing a dark secret involving Ambrose, but at the last moment seem to reconsider. While reminiscing about some of his uncle’s odd behavior during past family events, Hal receives a strange, static-laden phone call. “This is your Uncle Amby, Hal. You must help me, boy.”
Stopping by the Brent household to pay his respects, local reporter Hugh Payson asks Hal about a book Ambrose may have left behind in his belongings. The grey-fedora-and-rubber-heel-wearing newspaperman shows an unusual interest is this volume, simply titled “The Book of Ambrose,” and makes a point of warning Hal not to show it to his mother or sister, if found. Although initially disinterested, Hal’s curiosity eventually compels him to search Ambrose’s room for the book, which he finds easily enough in his uncle’s suitcase. However, as Hal reads, he is unprepared for the vile blast of demonic descriptions and satanic invocations released from between the covers. That night the infernal dreams begin, rivers of dark desire winding through a half-familiar landscape.
A piercing scream wakes Hal from one such dream, and he discovers that his sister Lisa is missing. The telephone rings again, but this time his late uncle is not the caller. Margo Dillon, a mysterious beauty Hal remembers from the funeral, demands an exchange—“The Book of Ambrose” for Lisa’s life.
Rest in Agony tells its slender story over a few scant days, and its characters are only sketchily developed. Uncle Ambrose remains a disembodied voice, making his ultimate fate a less-than-compelling concern. Any potential to develop a sense of paranoia about who to trust is squandered, since so few other townspeople are introduced as characters, making their reveal as members of the demonic cult irrelevant. Even the Prince of Darkness makes only a cameo appearance—as a puff of smoke. If the members of Satan’s Children would have just broken into the Brent house and stolen Ambrose’s book after his death, then Rest in Agony could have been reduced to a short story about a boy kissing his sister.