LegionBy William Peter Blatty (Simon and Schuster; 1983)

This is the official sequel to THE EXORCIST, written by its creator William Peter Blatty. It focuses on the Georgetown based Lieutenant Kinderman, a close friend of Father Karras in the earlier novel/film; it was Kinderman, you’ll recall, who concluded THE EXORCIST (as one of the subjects of its famous final line “In forgetting they were trying to remember”).

In LEGION, which picks up 12 years after the events of THE EXORCIST, Kinderman is back. He’s investigating a series of killings–including that of his pal Father Dyer, who’s massacred in a hospital bed–that parallel those of the long dead “Gemini” killer who terrorized San Francisco years earlier. The only thing is, the recent killings appear to have been committed by several different people, even though the murders all bear remarkably similar markings and patterns…almost as if the perpetrators were demonically possessed by the spirit of the Gemini killer. It all leads Kinderman to a mental patient locked up in a secluded wing of a local institution, and a supernatural confrontation twelve years in the making.

A pretty simple and even predictable set-up, albeit stunningly well told. Most of the things that made THE EXORCIST (the novel) such a memorable read are in evidence in LEGION, including page-turning suspense, strong characterizations and a powerful sense of raging evil. That evil never quite erupts like it did in the earlier novel–LEGION being a far quieter, more restrained work overall–but is still very much a vivid and distinct presence throughout.

Where LEGION goes wrong, I feel, is in the theological arguments Kinderman is always having with himself and seemingly everyone with whom he comes into contact. These arguments stem from the age-old query of how can it be that a just and loving God allows so many terrible things to occur? Good question, but other than a rather trite theory that the figure of Lucifer the fallen angel actually represents us humans (hence the biblical expression “Legion, for we are many”), this book doesn’t come close to answering it.

What we get instead are endless pages attempting to conclusively prove the existence of a higher power through science. Blatty was on a scientific/spiritual kick at the time, as evinced by this novel and the novel/film THE NINTH CONFIGURATION–whose title referred to the combination of random elements needed to create matter, which strains the laws of probability (a typical fallacy among believers is the idea that if a scientific principle is improbable than it must be false). Blatty seems to assume his audience is made up of rabid atheists who need to be convinced of the validity of faith, and so offers up all sorts of quasi-scientific arguments to support this, i.e. the idea that the predisposition of matter toward chaos disproves the theory of evolution (another fallacy of believers: trumpeting scientific principles that support their preconceived theses while ridiculing and/or ignoring any that don’t). These passages don’t dilute Blatty’s storytelling mastery, but they do add a lot of clutter to an otherwise impeccably told tale.

Before finishing this review I’ll have to mention another element of LEGION that bothered me a fair amount. It occurs during a climactic passage in which a character listens to a “haunting song” that “swept through his soul and filled it,” a tune apparently so profound Blatty feels it necessary to transcribe several lyrics. The song? “Memory” from CATS! I only wish I were making that up…