William H. Hallahan’s Occult Thrillers: The Search for Joseph Tully, Keeper of the Children and The Monk

William H. Hallahan was a popular writer during the 70s and 80s. He mainly wrote spy and mystery novels, but he also wrote 3 occult thrillers, one of which, The Search for Joseph Tully, is considered a classic of horror fiction. I had to give him a read.

The Monk
Avon Books – 1983

I enjoyed reading The Monk, but it always felt a bit silly.

This novel starts off with the fall of Satan. It’s pretty much the Paradise Lost version of events, but here the angel Timothy helps Satan at the beginning of his rebellion. Timmy backs out when he realises what he’s doing, but God is seriously pissed with him. As punishment, God sends Tim down to Earth to end the suffering mankind. To do so, he must find a baby with a purple aura and prevent Satan from killing it. He wanders for millennia as a Salathiel or Melmoth type figure, but Satan always beats him to the babies.

It’s a quite a buy-in. You wouldn’t have to be religious to understand what’s doing on, but it might make more sense if you are. Also, this is heavy stuff to use as the backdrop for a thriller novel. Readers want an entertaining page-turner to read on the train to work, but this book opens up with the ultimate battle between good and evil. I was totally fine with this, but it did strike me that setting the book up this way made for an inevitable ending. Satan can’t win. He can score a victory here and there, but it’s not going to work if all Hell breaks loose. Sure, some writers would do that, but I had read The Search Joseph Tully before this, and I knew that Hallahan’s writing would be too subtle for that kind of thing.

Ok, so the basic premise is a bit silly, but I really enjoyed the rest of the book. It starts off in Country Clare in Ireland, and the main character is called Brendan Davitt. He has a purple aura, but a magic monk disguised him when he was a baby. Now he lives in New York, but the disguise on his aura is wearing off. Satan and Timothy are racing to find him. Satan is aided by his hawk and some weird golem, demon things. Timothy has a big dog to help him.

The story is exciting, and the characters are fun. The Monk isn’t a great book, but it’s entertaining.

Keeper of the Children
Avon Books – 1979 (Originally published 1978)

This was another flawed yet enjoyable read.

A 14 year old girl runs away from home and joins a cult run by an Tibetan monk. Her father tries to get her back, but the monk seems to exerting some kind of mind control over the kids in his gang. He doesn’t molest them or anything. He just gets them to beg on the streets and then takes the money. They are given food, clean clothes and a safe place to sleep at night.

The dad gets pretty annoyed by this, and he meets up with some of the parents of the other kids in the group. Before they can do anything, a scarecrow comes to life and kills one of them. Then some cats kill another. Then a shop mannequin kills another.

Dad realises that the monk is possessing these inanimate objects and getting them to kill for him, so dad goes to a yoga retreat centre to learn how to do the same. The difficulty is that it normally takes a lifetime of meditation to achieve this kind of power, but dad only has 2 weeks.

I won’t reveal anything else because I don’t want to spoil the book for those of you who want to read it, but I will confirm that this book does indeed contain an axe-wielding teddy bear.

My first problem with the book is the premise. The girl is 14 years old when she runs away from home to join the cult. This book was written in the late 70s, but surely it would have been illegal then for a man to live with a bunch of children without their parents’ permission.

The monk has the power to animate objects and move them around, but he decides to use his powers to get a gang of kids to beg for coins for him. Surely a man with his skills would find a more convenient way to make money.

When the Dad finds out that his girl has been kidnapped, he goes to work before trying to fix the problem. He never once approaches the monk or tries to talk to him. He goes to a yoga guru and learns to meditate while his little girl is living with a creep. If somebody kidnapped my child and I had no recourse to legal action, I would immediately try to physically assault that person. I’m not saying that to sound tough. It’s not a good idea, but I can’t imagine acting otherwise. There’s just no way any loving parent would have the patience of the father in this book.

Ok, so the set up is fairly silly. The next part that sucks is when he is learning to meditate. I have read so much crap on astral projection and telekinesis that I balk whenever I come across this kind of nonsense. In this book the protagonist learns how to master these powers in just a few days. It’s lame and unbelievable.

This book would have been far more satisfying and realistic if the dad won a fight against the evil teddy and then used the teddy’s axe to brutally dismember the evil monk.

Reading back on what I’ve written here, I realise that it sounds like I didn’t like this book. I did enjoy reading it though. It is a stupid book, but it was easy to read, and it’s less than 200 pages.

The Search for Joseph Tully
Avon Books – 1977 (First published 1974)

I have to be honest. I read this book in September, and I didn’t bother to write about it after finishing it. I’ve since forgotten most of what happens in here. I remember a death near the beginning, a weird monk lad and a lot of bad weather. It was obviously good though. I gave it 5 out of 5 on goodreads, and I enjoyed it enough to convince me to read Hallahan’s other books. I’m pretty sure this is considered to be Hallahan’s best horror (or occult) novel, and it is definitely where I would recommend starting if you haven’t read him already. Maybe I’ll come back to this one in the future.

Wiliam H. Hallahan was a talented writer. I might even read his non-horror fiction when I grow up.