Baptist minister Peter Laws is back again with the fourth book in the Matt Hunter series.
What originally began as a two-book deal with Allison and Busby in 2017 has now increased to four, with possibly more on the horizon. The events of this novel, Possessed, take place some time after the conclusion of Severed. Theology professor Matt Hunter is in therapy after his brush with death at the hands of a doomsday cult when he is called in to advise on the case of a man who claims to be demonically possessed.
The man, Tom Riley, claims to be possessed by a Canaanite demon Baal-Berith, which stumps the local police when they are called to bring him in. As always, they turn to Matt for answers. Just as things could not get any worse, the media gets involved, and Matt ends up going on television to give his two bits on possession and exorcism. Throw in a well-known American exorcist, a documentary producer, Riley’s pastor and twenty mentally unstable individuals and we have the perfect recipe for disaster.
In Possessed, Matt spends less time in the company of cops — unlike in previous books — instead serving as a consultant on a documentary about exorcism thanks to his role in the Riley case. Due to his scientific viewpoints, he clashes openly with Bernie Kissell, the American exorcist, and Simon Perry, the pastor at Riley’s church. In turn, he discovers that Kissell and Perry have their own secrets to hide, with disastrous consequences.
In this book, the main antagonist survives and is apprehended instead of committing suicide and escaping punishment. This brings some fresh air to the series and stops it from getting stale. Things were in some danger of becoming cliche towards the end of Severed but Possessed is a whole new ball game altogether.
The subject of demonic possession is rather touchy. Christians believe in the existence of demons, and the case of Anneliese Michel still attracts curiosity. The exorcism and subsequent death of Ms Michel inspired the 2005 film The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Three years before Ms Michel died, the Max von Sydow classic The Exorcist was released. Both films deal with demonic possession and are highly disturbing.
Rationalists, however, believe that there is a scientific explanation for everything, including demonic possession. Their theory is that the person who claims to be possessed may be mentally ill. As a matter of fact, Anneliese Michel was treated for various mental disorders before undergoing exorcism. In Possessed, some of the people seeking help from Kissell to cast out demons from their bodies are themselves on medication for mental illness. Matt Hunter effectively helps bridge the chasm between religion and science when he says that the idea of demonic possession sounds somewhat more palatable due to the stigma of mental illness. Exorcism thus acts as a placebo for proper medical treatment.
That said, Rev Laws has managed to tackle the touchy subject of demonic possession and exorcism rather deftly. The plot of Possessed seems quite plausible, more so than Unleashed, the second book in the series. It is hard to dispute that Matt Hunter is the next best thing since Lisbeth Salander and he could be gaining a cult following from a niche market. Perhaps Rev Laws’ fans should start praying for a sequel now if they enjoyed Possessed.