Brian McNaughton | Star Books | 1984 | 252 pages
A red-haired succubus appears to fifteen-year old Patrick Laughlin in a series of recurring erotic nightmares. Living with his parents in a converted old mill that his mother, Rose, inherited from her free-spirited father, Patrick wonders if the atmosphere of the place is fueling his fantasies, or if his unconventional upbringing is somehow coloring an otherwise normal adolescence. Up until his tenth birthday, Rose would spend most of her time around the house nude, performing mundane housekeeping tasks and reading to her son by the fireplace—and also allowing him to casually fondle her breasts.
Patrick’s father, Frank, a commercial artist working from his home studio, doesn’t share Rose’s views on raising their child, fearing that her flirtatious coddling will retard Patrick’s developing masculinity. Frank, a homophobic lout most of the time anyway, becomes even more hot-tempered than usual as his work becomes increasingly derailed by his inability to draw any other model than a new obsession, a red-haired figure that Patrick finds strikingly familiar.
The discovery of a burned and half-eaten infant corpse in the fields outside of town doesn’t deter the Laughlin’s Halloween party, whose guests include the most distinguished local villagers, Frank’s New York advertising colleagues, and a neighboring Satanist along with his retinue of (young, female) communal followers. Dressed as a pirate, Patrick shows an unusual commitment to his character, seemingly channeling the spirit of an early ancestor, Mordred Glendower. A warlock in the era of the Salem witch trials, Glendower escaped punishment, but his red-haired disciple, Mirdath, was hanged for her complicity at the town crossroads.
Satan’s Mistress suffers some significant pacing issues, with the first half of the narrative building up to the Halloween party, where a cross-dresser gets beaten up in flagrante delicto (with Frank), Patrick calls upon some strange incantation to incite a seizure in a school bully, and Rose lapses into a mental breakdown upon discovering a secret room that she had been dreaming about in the cellar. The second half wanders to an eventual anti-climax, steeping the story in an overall ugly tone of ancestral incest, homophobia, and misogyny, wrapping up quickly in the last few pages. For a book featuring a titular succubus, Satan’s Mistress displays a complete dearth of eroticism.
But perhaps the biggest fault of the second half of Satan’s Mistress lies in the constant reference to works outside of itself. After the discovery of a copy of the Necronomicon, the story takes a sideways tangent, frequently name-checking H.P. Lovecraft, and ultimately positing the question:
What if the works of H.P. Lovecraft were based on reality?
Exploring the answer could be the basis of some other work, but the question that keeps coming to mind here is:
What if this book didn’t constantly remind me that I would rather be reading something else?