Orbit, 2006, 512 pages, £7.99, ISBN: 1841494143
Hot on the heels of The Devil You Know, Vicious Circle follows the further adventures of Felix “Fix” Castor as he tries to eke out a living and keep surviving in a world filled with demons, ghosts and assorted were-creatures. Felix’s trade, for want of a better term, is that of professional exorcist. It is not a particularly glamorous profession, nor does Felix have the luxury of a Mike Oldfield soundtrack. No. Instead he must make do with a tin whistle, his weapon of choice in the wacky world of spiritual skulduggery. This time around he is on the trail of a kidnapped girl Abbie, whose distraught but stupidly rich parents will pay anything to get her back. The catch? The kidnapped girl is already dead, it’s her ghost that they are after. This apparently simple case soon leads Felix to very dark places via murder, possessions, demonic hysteria and ancient religious sects. When his friends – dead, alive and even demon – begin to desert him the prospect of a, how shall we say, spiritually uplifting ending, seems bleak indeed. And with a dangerous, rogue exorcist on the loose Fix’s options are reducing by the hour…
Even though the appearance of a secret Catholic society of shady thugs may bring unwelcome recollections of Dan Brown there is no need to worry – with Vicious Circle you are in safe hands. Carey knows how to write a throat grabbing yarn but this is one where the unusual turns of phrase are deliberately humorous. Fix is a wise-cracking exorcist always on the scrounge in order to pay the rent to his long-suffering landlady and struggling with the knowledge that he put her boyfriend (and his best friend) in an asylum following a botched demon extraction. His regular informant is a paranoid zombie who lives in a cinema and spends his money on treatments to halt decomposition, while the book’s femme fatale is a particularly voracious succubus trying to go cold turkey on draining souls. Rather than making this set-up knowingly hip or steeped in gothic gloom Carey seems to root this premise in a contemporary version of classic British television – Callan or Rising Damp. Combining this with horror and the supernatural is an inspired move. Fix becomes a very British detective – dry, witty and prone to being roundly beaten-up. It is the humour that is the lifeblood of the book, it is wry, sarcastic and economical giving a real sense of the person for, despite his faults, Fix is a likeable and amiable lead, the kind you’d like to meet in the pub providing he didn’t bring a demonic entourage. This certainly helps with the depiction of violence. While The Devil You Know didn’t hold back on the violence when it was necessary, Vicious Circle’s violence is on a grander scale with many more innocent people getting caught in the tug-of-war between the planes. On one hand this makes the book more epic than its predecessor – disparate elements slotting into place to confirm a universal scale catastrophe that could be at hand – but conversely some of the back-to-basics charm of the first has been stretched. But our familiarity with the characters manages to retain things firmly back on terra firma.
Like its predecessor Vicious Circle is a fast paced, well written and well plotted page-turner free of pretension but never dumbed down. A witty, violent and entertaining read.