The Devil’s De­tec­tive

A hell of a Holmes

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Books -

Re­lease Date: 12 March 368 pages | Hard­back/ ebook Au­thor: Simon Kurt Unsworth Pub­lisher: Del Rey

Hell is gross and grotty, no longer a realm of lakes of fire and end­less tor­ture, but a place of grey un­hap­pi­ness, plod­ding work and ca­sual sav­agery meted out by the lo­cal demons. Fool is an In­for­ma­tion Man, one of Hell’s func­tionar­ies, con­duct­ing throughthe- mo­tions in­ves­ti­ga­tions of ran­dom cases. Un­til a body shows up with a miss­ing soul, start­ing a chain of events to rock the di­a­bolic or­der…

It sounds like it should be a comic fan­tasy, but it isn’t. The Devil’s De­tec­tive is told very straight, with stylis­tic power but a lack of hu­mour that be­comes over­bear­ing. It’s just so drab and glum, for­ever leak­ing nasty bod­ily flu­ids. It’s also ham­strung by its self- im­posed lack of char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion. Fool and Hell’s other hu­mans have no mem­o­ries of their past lives and sins. Fool him­self can’t even dream of joy, and while he slowly evolves, his progress is so em­phat­i­cally plot- driven that there’s lit­tle to warm to.

Ul­ti­mately, the book is an­other “weird world” fan­tasy of the kind you’ve likely read be­fore, chiefly lifted by its plea­sur­ably ab­sorb­ing prose. A half- man, half- gi­ant­ten­tac­u­lar- plant be­ing is a vivid cre­ation, though hardly un­prece­dented in fan­tasy. You’ll be ex­pect­ing a punch­line, and there is one; it’s not the worst of its kind and it has a cer­tain cyn­i­cal right­ness, but it still feels per­func­tory af­ter the long jour­ney. An­drew Os­mond Un­usual ac­knowl­edge­ment alert! Unsworth gives thanks to the UK rail net­work, “upon which most of this novel was writ­ten.”

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