Always Beside You by Damir Salkovic

Help her open the door. It wants to come through…

First, the dream. Now this message from the mouth of a stranger. It was too much of a coincidence for Nate Carver, and has him dropping everything to help a woman he hasn’t even thought about in eight years, not since the overdose that almost took Cathy Deveraux’s life.

The prison escape of Thomas Elbert stirs up memories for Detective Alec Palmer, and the man’s death raises questions. Why would a catatonic convicted killer suddenly wake up and escape, only to commit suicide days later? Or was it murder? And what connection did he have to Nate Carver, a man on the run with a daughter he never knew he had?

All roads lead to Boston, where, in their search for answers, they will be drawn into the dark world of the occult and mysticism. Of parallel worlds and alternate realities. Of doors that open onto other times and other worlds. Of dreams that won’t be denied.

By the time they realize they are merely pawns in a much bigger game, a game where the fate of the world is at stake, will it be too late?

I was sent a digital copy of this book by the author, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Damir! This book is meant for over 18 year olds.

Book cover - Always Beside You

Always Beside You is an eerily supernatural story, set mostly in Massachusetts, and since I live in the area and am familiar with many of the locations in the story, I found this an intriguing prospect and it somehow helped to make the story come alive and feel even more sinister for me. I could easily picture places such as the tunnels of the Green Line of the MBTA (Boston’s underground railway), where occult rituals took place back in the seventies, according to this novel.

Salkovic expertly plays with his readers’ sense of trepidation as we find ourselves wandering the shadowy corridors of a mental institution along with characters in this book. Something malevolent appears to be lurking in these shadows, something you can almost catch a glimpse of out of the corner of your eye and then hastily dismiss as a trick of the shadows, but what if it isn’t a trick? Could there be a presence lurking, watching us and waiting for an opportunity to enter our world?

There is quite a large cast of characters in this novel, each one fleshed out in a believable manner:

Ann and Richard Deveraux were a happily married couple in the seventies, who decided to dabble in the occult and held demonic rituals aimed at improving their financial and societal standing. In so doing they unleashed a horror into their minds. Many of their friends also took part in these rituals, including Thomas Elbert, who went on to commit multiple murders and be sentenced to end his days in an institute for the criminally insane.

Cathy Deveraux, Ann and Richard’s daughter, who was conceived during an occult ritual, has powerful abilities which have led to her being committed to the Institute for Applied Psychosomatic Analysis, where her therapist is Dr Whittaker. She is showing signs of: 

Telekinesis, telepathy, partial control over her autonomous nervous system. Bursts of precognitive ability.

There was a malevolent presence always there in the back of Cathy’s mind waiting for a chance to break free, and when she lost control, through drugs, it did and chaos and death ensued. Years ago Cathy met Nate Carver while at the University of New Hampshire and the two had a drug-fueled love affair which culminated in a killing spree in New York. Nate had saved her from this, when as a junkie she lost control of the malevolent force and killed a whole community of addicts in a warehouse. She is unaware that any of this happened.

Now years later, Nate, a recovering drug addict who resembles a vagrant, has been told by a strange man that Cathy needs saving again. This elderly man is Thomas Elbert who has managed to escape his institution in order to pass on this message, despite having been catatonic for years. Suddenly he is driven by something to escape and go to warn Nate that Cathy needs his help, and then to commit suicide.  Thomas tells Nate to help Cathy, since “it wants to come through” and he says Cathy is the door. 

Lt. Palmer solved the Thomas Elbert murder case years ago, but something is nagging at his brain concerning the case’s incongruities. There was never a motive for Thomas to kill the Leary family. Someone or something appears to have been using Thomas as a puppet. All those years ago, Palmer initially sensed something strange within Thomas – anyone coming into contact with someone already affected by this malevolent presence also appears to become affected, as it worms its way into their subconscious:

An otherness, ancient and malefic and insane, grinning and gibbering just beyond sight. Palmer could not comprehend it, put a name to it, but he sensed its stirrings. Like it knew that he had come. Like it had been waiting.

The author plays with our sense of paranoia and also our fear of mental illness, of losing control of our sense of self – this is reflected in his description of Ann Deveraux’s recently diagnosed Alzheimers:

Sometimes she’d spend hours staring into the mirror, unable to recognize the stranger staring back, the twisted, hideous parody of her former self. Sometimes, if she stared hard enough, she would catch a glimmer of light haunting her eyes. A frantic, helpless person trapped inside this prison of aged flesh and fear, too deep to get out.

She told Nate it was Alzheimers but she herself recognizes it as something more sinister. Something which also happened to her husband Richard:

It wasn’t an illness consuming her, but the side effects of her forays beyond the veil.

Cathy tells Nate he is the father of her seven year old daughter, Ellie, who she claims lives with her at the Institute. He wants to take Ellie away from the institution to a better life. He finally has a sense of purpose in looking after his child.

The  novel flows along nicely and carries the reader with it. I found myself reading on and on, eager to find out more about this entity and wondering how on earth the evil presence could possibly be overcome when it has the ability to take over minds and drive people insane. Lt. Palmer’s involvement introduced detective novel elements to the story which I thoroughly enjoyed. I would highly recommend this book to people who like supernatural, paranormal stories with detective/mystery elements.

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Damir Salkovic is an aficionado of horror and the weird, living in Arlington, VA. He enjoys reading, traveling, and low-budget horror movies. He earns his living as an auditor, a profession that supplies nightmare material for his stories and plenty of writing time in the form of long-haul flights and interminable layovers.

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