Set in Blue Mountain in the Appalachians, DePoy's novel is well-written and perversely entertaining as Fever Devilin comes face to face with yet another bizarre experience since his recent near-death at the hands of a madman. Fever is no ordinary protagonist. The folklorist seems to draw the attention of otherworldly creatures just beyond this dimension, a trait that sets the Fever Devilin novels apart. Since his coma and "resurrection," Devilin's nurse/fiancé, Lucinda, has engaged psychiatrist Ceridwen Nelson to interview him and declare Fever either sane or the less attractive alternative.
Just before Christmas, a strange woman appears at Devilin's door claiming to be his ex-wife and tearfully begging his forgiveness. She escapes into the night rather than accept his help or that of professionals. His friend Sheriff Skidmore Needle arrives only to hear Fever's wild story and question whether this woman is a figment of Fever's imagination. Ceridwen shows up on the scene just in time, agreeing to remain with Fever and ascertain if he is imagining things and/or assist him in understanding a troublesome psychological condition. A pragmatist, Fever is willing to concede the possibility of an overactive imagination,. As events progress, it becomes clear that the woman is no figment, nor is a gun-wielding boy in Army fatigues who shoots through a window at Dr. Nelson.
DePoy fills his mystery with stunning images: the bloody carcass of a deer shot by the boy, carrion wings fluttering over the spoils, a dark cave beneath his house, a bear cub defending the entrance to the cave, Sheriff Needle wrapped hear-to-toe in ever-tightening barbed wire, a naked woman springing from Fever's bed only to jump from the window into the snow below. Though Fever and Ceridwen question every event and its hidden motivation, there is no doubt that the threat is real, though whether otherworldly or not has yet
to be determined.
The plot artfully twists between past and present, with an infusion of ancient myth, Fever's family history and memories of his trip to Ireland. The closer Fever draws to the truth, the more the mysteries of his childhood are revealed, people and events long shrouded in secrets and shame. The illusions of a lonely childhood fall away, replaced by facts that suddenly create a whole of fragments. The result is a ghostlike tale of love, yearning and revenge, the stuff of myths and tragedy grown monstrous in a broken mind.
Fever Devilin is indeed a fascinating protagonist, a brilliant man uninhibited by convention and conversant with folklore and mythology, willing to entertain ideas that breach normalcy and navigate the often treacherous paths of his own subconscious. The title proves particularly apt, given the circumstances of Devilin's brush with a fatal beauty and the tale she has built around him: "December's thorn, cruelest in the wood, Will give no rose, but still draw blood."