Charles F. French’s debut novel, Maledicus, is the first in The Investigative Paranormal Society series. The Society is comprised of three long-time friends, who couldn’t be more different from one another: Sam, a retired police officer, Jeremy, a retired antiques dealer, and Roosevelt, a retired history professor. Their common bond is a compelling interest in life after death. Each man has lost a loved one before his or her time, so their interest in the paranormal is not idle or academic curiosity. The stakes are high, and they’re very personal.
Before we meet Sam, Jeremy, and Roosevelt, the novel opens in ancient Rome with the introduction of one Lucius Antony Caius, a trusted advisor and procuror for the Emperor Caligula. For his own treachery, debauchery, and torture of innocents, he is known as Maledicus. He will become the evil entity with whom the Investigative Paranormal Society must do battle. And an evil one he is!
My favorite parts of the novel were the scenes set in ancient Rome with Maledicus. Anyone who thinks he could be a match for the evil (and insane) Emperor Caligula immediately has my attention. In addition, these scenes were well-researched and executed (pardon the pun).
I was surprised that Caligula dispatched Maledicus so quickly–although I probably shouldn’t have been, given Caligula’s reputation. However, I would like to have spent a bit more time with Maledicus in his earthly incarnation before he was sent howling into the netherworld.
The Investigative Paranormal Society are brought in when Maledicus sets his sights on the five-year-old niece of a local teacher. He proves an intractable enemy for Sam, Jeremy, and Roosevelt, as well as the people they enlist in their fight. In fact, there were several times I was genuinely shocked by what Maledicus did, which for me was one of the biggest strengths of the novel. Although shocking, the horror was not gratuitous or stomach-churning.
I would recommend Maledicus to readers who enjoy horror, the paranormal, and the question of the difference between an evil person and an evil spirit–which I found a fascinating one as I read the novel. If a person can be truly evil, how can this evil outlive its corporeal existence?