The Devil’s Detective
A hell of a Holmes
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.”