Though never charged, Associate Professor of Psychology Steve Toddmann is suspected of having killed his wife, Zoe, and his mentor, the renowned and controversial Dr. LeGrand.
What Steve couldn’t explain to the police is that LeGrand and Zoe were victims of an experiment gone wrong, an experiment into the existence of a fourth-dimension known as the Permeance.
Determined to understand exactly what happened to them, Steve continues the research but doesn’t make much progress with it. Enter Hope Banfield.
Steve’s struck by how much Hope resembles his late wife, as well as by her seriously outdated wardrobe and exceedingly formal manner of speech. When Hope explains that she is, in fact, from the 1870’s and is present via the Permeance Steve realizes the answers to all his questions are finally within reach.
That’s also when things start to get seriously weird.
You see, Steve begins to think Hope isn’t the only one traveling the Permeance, but that his late wife Zoe has actually returned as well. Needing a body to hold her time travel roaming consciousness, Zoe has forcibly ejected psychologist Janet Doherty from hers, leaving the devoutly Christian Janet in a spiritual limbo of sorts. Meanwhile, Steve’s obsession with the Permeance and increasingly erratic behavior causes the university’s board to file for declaratory judgment on their right to terminate Steve and, more alarming to Steve, evict him from his house/research facility on the university campus.
What unfolds from there is one of the most intellectually engaging and challenging novels I’ve read in quite some time. Though Devil’s Toll starts off as a relatively straightforward tale that seems to have just a touch of the paranormal, author Malachi Stone ever so subtly morphs the narrative into an amazingly complex exploration of what happens to the human soul/consciousness upon the death of the corporeal self. Stone does so both through Steve’s experimentation seeking enlightenment through time travel and remote viewing via the Permeance, as well as by following Janet as she’s confronted by demons seeking to waylay her soul on the way to Heaven.
To say Stone presents the process in a creative way is understatement of the highest nature. Using the concept of the twenty aerial toll-houses from Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Janet is put on trial via a bizarre ethereal talk show which quickly degenerates into a Maury Povich-esque ambush and confrontation by way of “video clips” of difficult events from Janet’s life meant to tempt her into committing sin and thereby keeping her out of Heaven. And just as Janet is tempted by accusers and must defend her soul, Steve winds up in a courtroom showdown during which he must confront his accusers and defend his science – his consciousness. On trial for what may as well be his life, Steve desperately tries to explain the significance of the Permeance and his research into it:
See, I can talk and talk at you until I’m hoarse about things like heaven and hell, angels and demons, cardinal virtues and deadly sins, but in the final analysis you either accept such things on faith, or else you don’t. Totally non-scientific. The academic world holds such thinking in abject contempt and relegates it sneeringly to what it calls The Age of Faith. My research breaks down the wall between conventional science and conventional religion and integrates the two into one cohesive worldview.
Seeking to break down a wall or two of his own, Stone challenges spiritual-minded readers to contemplate existence as a state of consciousness capable of transcending time but with no “set” final resting point, while also challenging more science-mined readers to contemplate existence as a soul which indeed comes to rest in either heaven or hell depending upon your earthly behavior.
Folks, Malachi Stone set out to do something incredibly ambitious with Devil’s Toll, the end result of which is a deeply satisfying read that will stay with you long after you’ve reached “The End.”
Devil’s Toll is available as an e-book at Amazon.