This “disorienting, creepy, paranoia-inducing reimagining of the devil-made-me-do-it tale” (Paul Tremblay, author of The Cabin at the End of the World) follows the harrowing downfall of a tortured graduate student arrested for murder.
Grayson Hale, the most infamous murderer in Scotland, is better known by a different name: the Devil’s Advocate. The twenty-five-year-old American grad student rose to instant notoriety when he confessed to the slaughter of his classmate Liam Stewart, claiming the Devil made him do it.
When Hale is found hanged in his prison cell, officers uncover a handwritten manuscript that promises to answer the question that’s haunted the nation for years: was Hale a lunatic, or had he been telling the truth all along?
The first-person narrative reveals an acerbic young atheist, newly enrolled at the University of Edinburgh to carry on the legacy of his recently deceased father. In need of cash, he takes a job ghostwriting a mysterious book for a dark stranger—but he has misgivings when the project begins to reawaken his satanophobia, a rare condition that causes him to live in terror that the Devil is after him. As he struggles to disentangle fact from fear, Grayson’s world is turned upside-down after events force him to confront his growing suspicion that he’s working for the one he has feared all this time—and that the book is only the beginning of their partnership.
“A modern-day Gothic tale with claws” (Jennifer Fawcett, author of Beneath the Stairs), A History of Fear marries dread-inducing atmosphere with heart-palpitating storytelling.
Release date: December 6, 2022
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A History of Fear: A Novel
Who among us did not experience a prickle of fear the first time they read those now infamous words? When Grayson Matthew Hale stepped foot on Scottish soil, few could have predicted that this ordinary young man, without a speck on his moral or criminal records, would soon be known throughout the country by a more sinister name, a name synonymous with cold-blooded murder and the dark side of American zealotry: the Devil’s Advocate.
If you are reading this, you’re likely already familiar with Hale and his precipitous rise to fame. You’ll know that he made headlines in 2017, when, as a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, he confessed to the slaughter of fellow student Liam Stewart and claimed the Devil himself as his master and accomplice. You’ll know too that news of Hale’s confession exploded across the nation with headlines such as KILLER CONFESSES, SAYS DEVIL MADE HIM DO IT, and AMERICAN KILLER CLAIMS SATAN IN SCOTLAND, propelling its subject to instant notoriety.
One might think that, as the journalist who broke the story of Hale’s confession, I would be numb to the terror of those words by now, but their effect on me has scarcely dulled since they first appeared in my inbox.
I still remember that night. It was the second of March 2017 and I was burning the midnight oil at the offices of The Scotsman, where I freelanced as a news reporter focusing on petty crime in the capital. A major deadline loomed, and my flat was playing youth hostel to my boyfriend’s rather exuberant kid sister and her friend. Seeking a bit of silence in which to work, I had set up camp at the desk of a stranger, liberally decorated with Disney figurines and photos of the owner’s crusty-eyed bichon frise. Fueled by adrenaline and lashings of instant coffee, I had just crossed over into the wee small hours when came the unmistakable sound of a new email hitting my inbox.
I was used to getting messages at all hours, but this one made me pause. The address was anonymous, the subject brief and unsettling: THE DEVIL’S BACK.
Suspecting it was spam, I almost deleted the message unopened, but something, perhaps mere wanton curiosity, compelled me to explore further. Clicking through, I was met with a brief note from an unnamed writer informing me that an Edinburgh man named Grayson Hale had been charged with murder. I knew this name. Some months before, Hale had been trumpeted as a key suspect in the disappearance of Liam Stewart, whose case had garnered its own heap of press attention. This information, if it could be corroborated, was a lucky break.
But as I was about to find out, the real story lay in the untitled attachment: a full transcript, mysteriously acquired, of Hale’s outlandish admission to police, which, in addition to sending a jolt of cold dread through my body, was about to change the course of my life.
Abandoning my existing project, I worked through the night to verify the document was authentic and scrape together five hundred words for the morning edition and its online equivalent. Little did I know, in the course of a single article I would become the author of the most-shared Scottish news story of the decade and inadvertently coin the moniker by which Hale is better known today.
Over the following weeks, I went on to appear on half a dozen news programs and podcasts, solidifying my reputation as the foremost expert on the crimes of Grayson Hale. Forced to enact a charade of journalistic neutrality when in reality the mere mention of Hale’s name set my insides wriggling like a cavity of worms. It was not until I was assigned to report on his trial, however, that my fear reached a fever pitch.
Even more than the sensational nature of his claims, what disturbed me most of all was that those claims did not seem to tally with the person who spouted them from the witness box. Where I had expected a raving lunatic, Hale presented as exceedingly normal—a benign and intelligent if introverted young man, who fully acknowledged the absurdity of his tale and maneuvered the prosecution’s mocking inquisition with such agility that anyone present would have been hard-pressed to doubt him. His was a story that became more unbelievable at every turn yet somehow more undeniable—a story not just of devils and fiends, but of the darkness that nests within the human soul like a seed awaiting rain.
For more than a year I believed that story had ended in the courtroom, when the jury delivered a guilty verdict condemning Hale to a life behind bars. It seemed a foregone conclusion that he would drift quietly into the obscurity of his sentence, his only legacy a harrowing and unresolved narrative that, like the legends of Thomas Weir and the Loch Ness Monster, promised to linger in the annals of Scottish history for years to come.
But as you are no doubt aware, he did no such thing. Just nineteen months into his sentence, Hale commanded the headlines once again when his body was discovered in a high-security cell at Her Majesty’s Prison Edinburgh suspended by a bedsheet cinched around his neck. His government-issue jumpsuit was slashed and torn, the flesh beneath crisscrossed with bizarre lacerations. One prison officer reportedly described the wounds as being like “claw marks from a small, three-fingered animal.”
No suicide note was found. There were no known witnesses to the event. According to a spokesperson for the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), Hale had been living in segregation, a.k.a. solitary confinement, for his own protection and the protection of others.
After a thorough investigation, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman released a report declaring Hale’s death self-inflicted. The marks on his person, which received only a few words’ mention, were dismissed as “minor” and incidental to the hanging, which the autopsy recorded as the official cause of death. An inquiry into the possible cause of the wounds was inconclusive, although their shape and position reportedly made self-harm unlikely.
Naturally, speculation raged, each explanation more disturbing than the last. Some believed Hale had been murdered by a fellow prisoner, or even an officer, perhaps one with ties to the Stewart family. Others maintained a more ominous theory: that the marks on his body substantiated his well-publicized accounts of having been pursued by demonic spirits. What should have been a definitive end to his story left the nation—myself included—with still more questions about the Devil’s Advocate and the demons, real or metaphorical, with which he had grappled in his final moments.
Like many, I didn’t know what to think. Had Hale hanged himself as the report concluded? Was his suicide just the last in a long line of violent and psychotic acts? Or—there was no other way to put it—was it possible he had been telling the truth?
Soon the uncertainty became too much to bear. I found myself struggling to eat properly, or sleep. I lay awake at night, haunted by the questions I could not answer, questions that wore down my body to skin and bone and shredded my nerves to a throbbing pulp. My work suffered, my relationship on the rocks. Before long it became a matter of necessity: I needed to know what had happened in that cell. Needed to know the truth about the Devil’s Advocate once and for all.
To my surprise, it seemed I just might.
Within days of the announcement of Hale’s death, whispers began to circulate around the newsroom that prison officers had discovered, in his cell, a manuscript of more than two hundred A4 pages written in the deceased’s own hand, presented on the desk like a last will and testament. Reportedly bearing the title The Memoirs and Confessions of Grayson Hale, the document was said to describe, in unflinching detail, Hale’s account of his diabolical liaison and the months leading up to the murder of Liam Stewart. I privately rejoiced; this was it! At last we would hear it directly from him, the story he had been trying to tell us all along. At the very least we might catch a glimpse into the twisted mind of the country’s most notorious killer and finally lay our fears of the Devil to rest.
However, despite the public thirst for answers, the SPS refused to release Hale’s manuscript, stating there was no precedent for the publication of the private journals of prisoners living or deceased. They even denied my request for facsimiles of the document, citing section 34 of the Scottish Freedom of Information Act 2002, which exempts public authorities from having to divulge information related to the investigation of a person’s death. Not even a media-fueled campaign of public outrage could dislodge the SPS from their pedestal of bureaucratic obstinance.
Still, I remained adamant that the nation had a right to answers—and I would not rest, literally or figuratively, until we had them. Thus, with the help of my friend Iain Crawford, a professor at Strathclyde Law School, I lodged an appeal with Scottish information commissioner Marjory Brown in May of last year. Upon reading her decision, my heart sank. Despite my best efforts, Commissioner Brown upheld the SPS’s judgment, reiterating the exemption under section 34. I nearly tossed the letter aside, tears of frustration stinging my eyes.
But as with the mysterious email that had started it all, something told me to read on.
The public interest must nevertheless be taken into account. As the requestor clearly notes in her letter of appeal, Hale’s manuscript represents far more than information held by a public authority. It represents a document of extraordinary cultural significance, whose study, contemplation, and publication—as the requestor herself proposes to undertake, and for which she has demonstrated she is uniquely qualified—stands to contribute significantly to the nation’s cultural and historical legacy. Therefore, I request that the SPS make available to the requestor, for the purposes of study, annotation, and dissemination, the manuscript of Grayson Hale and all related attachments.
And so, with the blessing of Commissioner Brown and the family of Liam Stewart, whom the sales of this book will benefit, I am pleased to present in the following pages Grayson Hale’s full and unexpurgated manuscript—a document of a most singular nature.
You may be surprised to find, as I was, that much like its author, the manuscript confounds expectations and evades easy classification. What is this strange memoir? you might ask. An imaginative fiction of diablerie and death? An astonishing first-person account of one man’s descent into madness? Or is it something even more ill-boding: a warning sent straight from the depths of hell?
In an attempt to answer this question, I’ve spent the last several months conducting extensive research into the man behind the manuscript, from his dark and complicated history to the events leading up to his arrest, unearthing much that Hale himself seemed keen to keep buried. To this end, I present this text with a series of supporting additions, including courtroom testimony, text messages, and interviews with Hale’s relatives and acquaintances. Whether these inclusions go far enough toward revealing the true nature of Hale’s memoir—well, I shall let you be the judge.
Daniella Barclay, MSc, NQJ
13 March 2020
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