Of all the predators that have stalked Strieber's bestselling horror (Billy, Communion, etc.), none match for sheer exuberant evil the dark star of this resonant novel--a rip-roaring, fire- snorting demon infesting the soul of a Greenwich Village priest. But which priest harbors the demon? Kindly old John Rafferty, beloved pastor of Mary and Joseph church? His young assistant, Frank Bayley? Or ancient Tom Zimmer, mute for five years? A routine question, that, to drive the fast-moving plot, but one fueled by issues of faith and corruption--beginning with the enthralling opening chapters, which find Father John's vow of celibacy teetering under the seductive push of lovely young parishioner Maria Julien. Succumbing to Maria's kisses, John goes to her apartment...and the story leaps hours ahead, with Maria crowing ``The cherry is pitted'' to--Fr. Frank. He too, it seems, is under Maria's spell--and that of her leathers and whips. But that night, a vile, capering, nonsense-spewing entity--seen here, as throughout, in artful half-light--strangles Maria in the church. And over the next days, several more die gruesome deaths--two burned alive--even as the media uncover John's affection for Maria, and as the Holy See, shuddering at the scandal, puts Frank in John's place as pastor. In the meantime, a winsome female cop investigates the killings--and is attacked by the demon in her apartment--while old Fr. Tom shambles about in the wee hours. One priest is roasted, a second is unmasked, and a third must pit his shaky faith against the gibbering demon in an extended showdown that jumps and gyrates with evil energy. Any novel of demonic possession must bear comparison to The Exorcist--and Strieber's holds its own, with brilliantly realized characters, fascinating Church intrigue, and plenty of prose- dazzle, if not quite the shock and slam that made the Blatty so unforgettable.