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The Devil You Know

Mike Carey

April 2006


ISBN 1 84149 413 5

Paperback 384pp

Who you gonna call? Fix Castor!

Felix Castor, exorcist and part-time children’s entertainer with a natty way of sporting a tasteless green suit, has his share of problems. The main one seems to be the rent, hence the need to amuse vicious little brats for monetary remuneration. Although conjuring goes some way to provide a meagre income it isn’t really what Felix (Fix to his friends… both of them) does best. No. What Felix does best is deal with dead people. For a grand a pop. You see, the dead walk among us, or rather we’ve recently begun to see that they walk among us. Some people spot them more easily than others and some, including Felix, can get rid of them. Felix’s weapon of choice is a long, shiny, deadly… whistle; a far cry from the esoteric necromancy that some exorcists use. Felix is retired, or rather he was. The threat of eviction has tempted him into taking on “one last job”, which, unfortunately, could prove to be his final. On the surface it seems so easy – a mysterious, once chatty, presumably Russian, ghost is haunting the Bonnington Archive. Normally such an apparition would add a bit of character to the old place, especially in the dusty rooms where they are currently cataloguing some old Russian letters, but lately the spirit has turned silent and violent. A simple case of whistle a happy tune and everything will be just fine? Would that it were so. The case leads Felix on a deadly path involving hired werewolves, strip-clubs and wedding receptions, rival exorcists, new girlfriends (human and not so human) and some shocking revelations. If he’s lucky he’ll get out alive, if he isn’t he’ll wind up dead, or worse…

Fans of John Constantine and Hellblazer will no doubt spot some similarities in the basic premise of The Devil You Know: the exorcist, bound to see the supernatural world to a greater extent than ordinary folk, getting on with vanquishing demons. Fortunately The Devil You Know makes good use of the novel form (as Hellblazer did the comic form) by not concentrating on an increasing escalation of large-scale encounters. Indeed it is a far more low-key affair and better for it, laced with sardonic and self-deprecating humour that creates a likeable, if unconventional, hero. As a result the moments of horror appear a lot more immediate and real than a string of atrocities that many books feel obliged to pile on these days to overcome the perceived attention deficit problems of their readership. Also in its favour is the inherently British tone of the book – yes, the public know that creatures from the netherworld walk in their midst but are they perturbed? For the most part no, they just choose to ignore it if it doesn’t affect them personally. They limit discourses to the media and political circus. Should the dead have rights? What happens with inheritance tax? It’s a lot more humdrum and down-to-earth than the crash-bang hysterics of the normal action hero. This contrast between the mundane and the supernatural is what really makes The Devil You Know an enjoyable read and also makes the revelations uncomfortably believable, even in what is ostensibly a far-fetched fantasy-horror.

The Devil You Know is everything you could ask for in an entertaining novel – witty, easy to read with memorable characters and engaging plotting. It ain’t art, it’s not meant to be, but it’s a fast and fun ghost-cum-detective soap opera full of dark humour and grimy horror. Whether this will develop into a series (it does leave itself wide, wide open for a sequel) remains to be seen but, in the meantime, if you fancy a top-notch light read look no further. The only negative note is that the title unfortunately reminds one rather too much of a Kylie Minogue song. Now that is scary…