Victor Lavalle’s The Devil in Silver: A Tale of the Insane and Those Who Take Care of Them


New Hyde Hospital’s psychiatric ward has a new resident. It also has a very, very old one.

Pepper is a rambunctious big man, minor-league troublemaker, working-class hero (in his own mind), and, suddenly, the surprised inmate of a budget-strapped mental institution in Queens, New York. He’s not mentally ill, but that doesn’t seem to matter. He is accused of a crime he can’t quite square with his memory. In the darkness of his room on his first night, he’s visited by a terrifying creature with the body of an old man and the head of a bison who nearly kills him before being hustled away by the hospital staff. It’s no delusion: The other patients confirm that a hungry devil roams the hallways when the sun goes down. Pepper rallies three other inmates in a plot to fight back: Dorry, an octogenarian schizophrenic who’s been on the ward for decades and knows all its secrets; Coffee, an African immigrant with severe OCD, who tries desperately to send alarms to the outside world; and Loochie, a bipolar teenage girl who acts as the group’s enforcer. Battling the pill-pushing staff, one another, and their own minds, they try to kill the monster that’s stalking them. But can the Devil die? (Synopsis from

Victor Lavalle crafts a tale of insanity, horror, violence, and distrust in The Devil in Silver.  This is not a tale of the inmates in an asylum verse the nurses and orderlies who take care of them. It is the patients against an institution and a creature that seems to be dead set on killing each and everyone of the committed.

Lavalle shows an aptitude for amazing character development. We follow the life of Pepper, our lead protagonist, as he is committed and he makes new relationships in the ward. We see each of the patients as real people who develop with the story, their individual psychosis changing and growing as well. Lavalle makes the reader feel for the characters and the way that no one will ever listen to anything they have to say. There is a total feel of seclusion and abandonment for these people.

I love how the inmates liken the beast who lives among them to the Devil. It creates such an amazing, supernatural feel to the story that moves the drama of the story into the grim realm of horror.

The living conditions, the appearance of the characters, and the surroundings are described in very vivid detail and make it incredibly easy to picture the patients, the hospital, and a local pizzeria in the reader’s mind. Lavalle utilizes a perfect amount of description without overwhelming the storyline with this information.  Too often, authors lose track of the story by attempting to paint a vivid picture. Lavalle does not suffer from this. He puts together an amazing tale that is easy to imagine.

While this is a very well crafted tale, there are some areas that could have used some help. The point of view changed too often, occasionally in mid-paragraph. This was jarring and confusing and I found myself re-reading sections to make sure I knew who was thinking or saying what. The other issue was the ( ) sections where things that could have been implied for the reader to understand on their own was spelled out. It actually pulled me out of the story a little. These sections made the story feel a little too much like having a conversation online to make it work in the story.

Overall, I think this story was very well crafted and the character development was amazingly done.  I believe that with a little more polish and editing, this story could be an amazing read from start to finish. It would become an “accursed pageturner”.


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