Demon Street: The True Story of a Very Haunted House, by David Rountree and Robbie Lunt

Demon St cvr

David Rountree is the author of a 2010 book, Paranormal Technology: Understanding the Science of Ghost Hunting, which was positively reviewed in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, so the casual reader might assume that Demon Street, co-written with Robbie Lunt, would be a sober account of their investigation of a haunting.  The reality is much more startling because the title isn’t some kind of metaphor, it is to be taken literally. This really is the story of an alleged demonic infestation of house in Florida, and the battle Rountree and Lunt have in order to clear away the forces of darkness and restore some semblance of normality.

The haunting in question is caused by a careless home-owner practising black magic and getting more than he bargained for.  His actions create some kind of demonic focal point that targets Penelope, a woman renting a house on his property.  Confronted with the poltergeist-type phenomena that have been unleashed and fearing for her safety she decides she cannot stay any longer, but even away from the nexus she deteriorates mentally and physically, having been caught up in its baleful influence.  Fortunately Penelope is a friend of Lunt’s, and he with his friend Rountree get together with a posse of like-minded New Age-type souls under Rountree’s leadership to defeat the malevolent presence and bring Penelope some peace.  It’s a remarkable business, but is it credible?

The warning bell starts to ring even before the narrative proper gets underway, when a prefatory note informs the reader that ‘The authors have reconstructed the dialogue and events in this book to the best of their collective memories.’  As the events are said to have occurred in 1985, we have to take on trust the accuracy of the reconstruction after some thirty years, apparently without recourse to any records having been made at the time.  Key names have been changed, making independent verification nigh-on impossible.

The account is told by the authors in turn, with occasional interjections from a Native American called Black Eagle who supplies pearls of mystical wisdom.  That is because Rountree tells us he is a Lakota shaman and Lunt is his apprentice, so alongside the battle against the demons we have Rountree and Black Eagle mostly providing life lessons that show Rountree is in touch with a deeper reality and therefore speaks with authority.  The status of Black Eagle is never made clear; presumably he is not a local, or he could have been conscripted into the group, but whether he is somebody clairvoyantly linked to Rountree, or an aspect of his subconscious with no separate existence, is unclear.  Either way he doesn’t have much to say about demons per se.  It is mainly Lunt who moves the description of the demon-fighting action forward as a parallel strand.

The latter involves going to places that have some spiritual relevance, such as the psychics’ village Cassadaga and a psychic fair (finding themselves not always welcome among the spiritually attuned because of the hazardous associations they bring with them), obtaining essential artefacts and relevant information that will assist their campaign, undergoing psychic training in order to be prepared for anything the forces of evil can throw at them – which is plenty, as the harassing danger from the demons, once the group have identified themselves as a threat, is fairly constant – and generally arming themselves for the coming battle.  The climax when it comes feels a little rushed and anticlimactic, but perhaps it is not something that is easy to describe to anybody who wasn’t there for the relevant ritual.

There are some enjoyable aspects to the story, notably the descriptions of rural Florida, but the story itself is so far-fetched that the reader who is sceptical about whether demons exist will find it hard to accept that this is an accurate account of real experiences.  Rountree talks at one point about the need to create a ‘mysterious fog’ around oneself, in order not to be taken for granted, to keep people guessing.  The events on ‘Demon Street’ are certainly a mysterious fog, leaving the reader guessing how much, if any, truth there is in it.  The conclusion will depend largely on a prior assessment of the plausibility of demons.

At one end of the scale, a belief in demons may lead the reader to conclude that despite possible embroidery in the dialogue, this is essentially a documentary.  At the other end, someone who does not think the evidence for their existence is strong will decide that this is either an indication of delusion, or a hoax to allow the authors to appear self-importantly in a dramatic light: ‘warriors’, to use a favourite term of Rountree’s, with access to arcane shamanic knowledge battling the forces of darkness.

If the reader falls at the sceptical end then interest in Demon Street as a case study vanishes and all that is left is a rather poorly-told fiction with cardboard characters and risible dialogue.  That attitude could be a mistake, because it is possible that those who subscribe to the reality of demons know something everybody else is missing, but evidence other than the word of Rountree and Lunt is required to support such a far-fetched tale.  Those who open the book thinking it is going to be a standard account of a haunting or poltergeist, with dispassionate analysis, will be in for a disappointment as they struggle to work out what, if anything, is of value in it.

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