Depending on how you measure it, the roots of John Darnielle’s third novel, “Devil House,” date back to 2004, the ’80s era of Satanic panic or the late 14th century.
The book’s main narrator, Gage, is a true-crime author who’s headed to the Bay Area for a feat of stunt reportage: He’s working on a book about a 1986 double murder in an abandoned porn shop, and he’s purchased the property to better capture its aura. That’s where 2004 comes in: It’s when Darnielle, the novelist and frontman for indie rock group the Mountain Goats, spotted a ramshackle porn shop in his current hometown of Durham, N.C. Homemade sign, vaguely creepy name: Monster XXX. When the building was demolished a few years later, he got to thinking about disappeared pasts and lost stories.
“You could put a lot of life [as a novelist] into an edifice whose existence can no longer even be demonstrated,” Darnielle says via phone from Durham. “The germ of the book was having driven past a weird porn store that looked like somebody’s hobby.”