Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Devil You Know ($6.99), by Mike Carey

Mike Carey is a writer of comics (or graphic novels, if you must), and received no small amount of fame for them. The Devil You Know reflects that in its visual and action-oriented nature, all to the good. I’ve read books that were way too visual, a virtual audition by the author for a movie, and gimmicky as a result. I don’t feel that way about Carey’s book. His background, I feel, lends his writing a great sense of pacing and an ability to play with tension and release very well.

I actually read Vicious Circle first. This is Carey’s second book in his series starring Felix “Fix” Castor, a London exorcist. It’s due out in hardcover this month. It was an exciting, funny, serious, engaging, charming romp with succubi, were-critters, demons, ghosts, and zombies. As a result of that book, I am a fan for life.

I salivated when the first book arrived at the bookstore in paperback. It, too, is funny, exciting, engaging, and serious. But it is also disturbing and has a higher gag factor. The central murder mystery is indeed serious and, despite the fantasy setting of the book’s world, takes its story from the real-life horror of young women from poor countries being shanghaied to be prostitutes in our oh-so-civilized Western society.

Suspend your belief for maximum enjoyment. Imagine a world where ghosts are becoming commonplace, so much so that Parliament is considering a bill that would give the not-so-dead civil rights. Zombies walk among us, the smartest of whom consider refrigeration as mandatory to healthful living as plastic surgery is to aging actors, in both cases to keep the bits and pieces in their proper places.

Fix Castor has known from an early age that he is able to “hear” the supernatural music that brings ghosts and other inhuman creatures under his control. When he plays his tin whistle, he can send a ghost away. Away to where is unknown, but many clients pay to have noisome specters dismissed. It would be too easy for an author to write this sort of story with a broad stroke, but Carey tempers his outrageously fantastic scenes with nuance and shades his characters with accessible human qualities.

When Fix is offered an investigation of a haunting at an archival institution, he comes out of retirement -- a great back story that is covered in better detail in Vicious Circle -- in order to pay rent he owes his landlady and friend, Pen. In the process of discovering who the ghost is, he becomes intertwined with office politics (the mundane) and an enslaved succubus (the exotic). He meets the possessed and dispossessed, is involved in brotherly conflict and brotherly guilt, and travels the roads of the world we know that have gone supernaturally crazy.

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