Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea has many things I love: A distinct Gothic feel, a book chock-full of siblings(I love exploring sibling relationships), and enough creepiness to be nightmare-inducing. However, it also has plenty of tropes I hate: a insta-love relationship(which I was almost on board with because of the paranormal aspect until about 3/4 of the way through the book), and a trope I can’t really talk about for fear of spoilers but I HATE. The combination of these things–some of my greatest loves in literature, and some of my deepest hatreds–left me with quite a mixed feeling.
I will say that I loved the prose in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Tucholke really captured the creepiness of the book with the way she turned words. It made my reading quite a visual experience, for which I wasn’t always glad. Even now I can still picture a cemetery full of children, all hunting for the devil, intent on a mission. The location and description is enough to sufficiently creep me out. I also thought that the timelessness that is so often present in this genre was captured well. It’s set in modern day, from what I can tell, but it could have easily been set twenty or thirty years ago. The huge, spooky house, the town flavor–I was a HUGE fan of the writing, even if not always the plot. Even though, I will say that Tucholke has a certain affinity for one of my least favorite often used phrases: “the crooked smile”. I counted it used at least four times in this book, and that’s the unofficial tally. It’s a small thing, but I’m still not a fan of that phrase.
The characters in this book aren’t likable, but they held my interest so much. Violet is insufferable at times, and pretentious, but her concern for her family and her relationship with her grandmother kept her grounded in at least “interesting narrator” territory. Not a character I’d like to emulate(I mean, she thought A Rose for Emily by Faulkner was a romantic story), but her characterization didn’t bother me too much. River is every bit the enigma presented in the summary–What’s he really doing? Is he who he says he is? Why are all these awful things happening? And while I did think these two central characters were 3-dimension, I can’t say I feel the same way about all the secondary characters. Violet’s brother, Luke, and neighbor, Sunshine, never quite seemed to have any depth to me. Towards the end, Luke was beginning to gain on this a little, but it was a bit too little, too late.
However, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’s plot was it’s saving grace. The plot was amazing, and kept me turning pages and pages to figure out all the mysteries presented in the novel. The paranormal aspects, the Gothic atmosphere, all these things rolled up into one plot that was a heck of a page turner. I was waiting with baited breath until the big reveal.
Which is perhaps why the end was so disappointing to me. I can’t say without spoiling it, but the ending really did use one of my least favorite “plot reveals”. It’s the thing I’ve always thought of as a cliche, and I’ve really only enjoyed one book that used it. After that plot twist was revealed, the suspense was gone, because that cliche can only ever end one way. I really did enjoy Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, but the ending left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth.
Final Impression: I’m pretty split overall on Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. I really loved the writing style and most of the plot, but the characters weren’t the best and it did use some of my least favorite tropes. While some things didn’t bother me as much, I really disliked the ending for using what I consider an over-used cliche, especially in the genre. I enjoyed my reading of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, but it’s not a book I would recommend to someone who wants to start reading in the Gothic horror genre.