FANTASY JOHN COOPER
HELLCORP by Jonathan Whitelaw (Urbane Publications, £8.99) yoUnG authors are often advised to put a little of themselves into their characters, so what to make of Jonathan Whitelaw, whose hellcorp boasts the Devil as the central protagonist?
Whitelaw’s Auld nick is more darkly comic than prince of Darkness in this tale of Beelzebub taking human form to solve an ancient murder-mystery in modern-day scotland.
But this is no police procedural or whodunnit.
instead, it’s a dizzying feat of the imagination in which the Devil wants a break from the literally hellish work of tormenting sinners and the unworthy.
To get some holiday time, he set ups hell corp, a legitimate business that will keep the misery ticking over while he puts his cloven hooves up.
Trouble is, God is not so keen and first sets the Devil on his quest among humanity.
The Devil has some malevolent tricks – the opening scene sees him pay a spooky hammer house of horror-style visit to the pope – but is rather less terrifying when encased in a frail human body.
And God is considerably less omnipotent than you might expect and also clueless about what we humans are getting up to.
Must be that free will he gave us…
one of the book’s best facets is the quirky relationship between him up above and him down below.
The Devil is by turns irascible with the creator, frustrated by him and not a little afraid too – probably more than a bit like most of us mortals.
Whitelaw’s style is brisk and if he’s trying to make some deeper point about big business being the work of, well, the Devil, he doesn’t belabour it. There’s a scattering of scots words – like salt, lovely when used sparingly – such as ‘stank’ for drain.
And you’ll likely find yourself rather admiring the old goat – sympathy for the Devil, you might say.
Whitelaw is a regular on Janice Forsyth’s BBc Radio scotland afternoon show and this is his second novel.
it’s a pacy and witty romp through the metaphysical realm and a helluva fun read.