Monday 30 March 2015

The Devil's Detective.

The Devil's Detective is the first novel from Simon Kurt Unsworth and is published by Del Rey. I've been a fan of Simon's short stories for some time now (his collection Quiet Houses is one I recommend highly) so I was very much looking forward to reading this longer work. Having now finished it, I can honestly say that I found it just as impressive as everything else I've read by the author.
It's high concept stuff, the story (as the title suggests) revolving around Thomas Fool, a detective - or Information Man - working in Hell. Hell may be the destination for the dead but once there, its inhabitants can die again or, more pertinently, be murdered. The investigation of these killings (or, more precisely some of these killings - a triage system operates whereby the majority are simply filed away without being investigated) falls within the remit of Thomas and his companions Gordie and Summer. Throughout the course of the book, Thomas finds his feet, growing into the role. None of Hell's inhabitants know why they have ended up there and this confusion extends into Thomas' job - for much of the time he has no real idea of what it is he is supposed to be doing and the book is littered with self-deprecating snippets of his thoughts, he truly is a doubting Thomas.
The success of the book, of course, depends on how well the author does in creating the world in which the story takes place and it has to be said that Simon has done an outstanding job in this regard. The novel opens with Thomas gazing out over Hell from a vantage point high up, allowing the reader a brief guided tour of the world on display. Brevity is the key though, and the passage does all it needs to do - allowing glimpses without becoming a massive info dump. The places mentioned are visited throughout the course of the book, allowing the detail to be filled in then.
The Devil is in the detail of course, and again, the author has done a great job creating his own vision of Hell. There is much stunning imagery to be enjoyed here, in particular, the scenes of demons fishing souls from the sea of Limbo which washes up against the walls of Hell is one that will linger long in my imagination.
It's clear a great deal of thought has gone into the creation of this world - its inhabitants, with the hierarchical system of demons and humans as well as the locations - and it bears comparison with the imagination which created Discworld and, in particular the city of Ankh Morpork.
The plot itself involves a series of murders in which the souls of the victims have been removed. Fool's investigations bring him into contact with a host of marvellously drawn characters, Adam and Balthazar - a visiting delegation of angels from Heaven, Elderflower the bureaucrat, the Man of Plants and Flowers and so many others. As the narrative unfolds, Fool's confidence grows and the story is as much about his development as a character as the plot of the murder investigation itself (which, it must be said, has an eminently satisfying outcome). As he crosses Hell and High Water (literally) in pursuit of his investigation, Fool becomes a kind of folk hero to the human section of the population.
There's humour here too - a demon guarding the gates to Crow Heights having to stand on a box to see through them - and a lot of it is very subtle. The hospital in Hell is called the Iomante - a Google search of that revealed something that made me laugh out loud. There's plenty horror too though, no punches are pulled in the descriptions of the murders and bad things happen to people, some of which are deeply affecting.
I feel that I can't praise The Devil's Detective highly enough. I'm a big fan of imagination and it's here in abundance, dripping from every page. It's an incredible world the author has created and one which has so much potential for further stories. I sincerely hope that potential is realised.

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