The Devil You Know: Mike Carey [A Book Review]

I’ve decided I need to write  more book reviews.  In fact, any book reviews.  I’m already about twelve books in this year and I haven’t bothered reviewing any of them.  This isn’t because I haven’t enjoyed them, it’s because I’m just a lazy arse.

So, here’s my first review.

The Devil You Know: Mike Carey

The Devil You Know: A Felix Castor Novel – Mike Carey

(£7.99, Orbit)

OK, so I’m slow on the uptake.

I’m very familiar with the Other Works [tm] of Mr. Carey, X-Men/Ultimate Fantastic Four legend that he is. I’d been meaning to get around to his Felix Castor series ages ago, but what with the Horus Heresy getting in the way, and then that bloomin’ Kyme man and his Salamanders… then Chris Wraight and his accursed Iron Company – it didn’t look as though I’d ever get to it.

It probably hadn’t helped that I’d completely forgotten the series, either.

In fact, I don’t even remember now what it was that sparked my memory and convinced me to buy the first book in the series when I was recently wasting money I haven’t got on DVDs I don’t really need at Amazon. Whatever it was that jogged my failing, senile memory, I’m glad it did the job.

Because this book is good. Let me throw the blurb out there.

Felix Castor is a freelance exorcist, and London is his stamping ground. At a time when the supernatural world is in upheaval and spilling over into the mundane reality of the living, his skills have never been more in demand. A good exorcist can charge what he likes – and enjoy a hell of a life-style – but there’s a risk: sooner or later he’s going to take on a spirit that’s too strong for him. After a year spent in ‘retirement’ Castor is reluctantly drawn back to the life he rejected and accepts a seemingly simple exorcism case – just to pay the bills, you understand. Trouble is, the more he discovers about the ghost haunting the archive, the more things don’t add up. What should have been a perfectly straightforward exorcism is rapidly turning into the Who Can Kill Castor First Show, with demons, were-beings and ghosts all keen to claim the big prize. But that’s OK; Castor knows how to deal with the dead. It’s the living who piss him off…

‘Right then,’ thinks I. ‘So far, so Dresden Files rip-off.’ For those of you unfamiliar with the extraordinarily fantastic works of Jim Butcher and the eponymous Harry Dresden, might I further suggest these as books worthy of your time and effort?

But no. There’s nothing of the secret underground supernatural of Dresden in Felix Castor’s world. Carey paints a pretty grim picture of an alternate reality London, where the dead rise and go about their daily business alongside the living. Not all is harmonious, of course, and men like Felix Castor and another London-based exorcist, Gabriel ‘Gabe’ McLennan are needed to quell the unquiet dead from time to time.

Felix Castor – ‘Fix’ to ‘those who can bear me’ – realises that he can’t exist forever on the goodwill of his landlady (and friend) alone and that he needs work to pay the mounting bills and his back-rent. How fortuitous for our hero then, that he receives a call from the curator of a document archive. A man who is looking for someone to rid the archive of a ghost who has been seen and who is displaying somewhat violent tendencies. Initially, Castor is not enamoured of either the job or the people at the archive, but he agrees to take the job.

Carey twists and turns the tale in a vast variety of ways, pulling you down one path and then throwing up a brick wall dead end. He’s a master of manipulation: leaving you thinking ‘I know exactly what’s going on here’, and then completely shattering the conclusions you have drawn.

The first half of the book I found reasonably paced, if a little slow. It wasn’t a page turner, certainly, but it was well-written, evocative of London and with a very sympathetic protagonist. The supporting cast were well-drawn and the story bimbled along nicely.

Then I hit the halfway spot. I hit the halfway spot at about 8.30 this morning and I finished the book about 50 minutes later. The speed of the story picked up momentum and hauled me along with it. It was fabulous. It twisted and turned like a… twisty, turny thing (apologies to Blackadder).

When the story finished, I was genuinely disappointed that I hadn’t bought the next book in the cycle: ‘Vicious Circle’. I intend to rectify this when I go into town this afternoon. I’m looking forward to seeing how a particular relationship formed in this book pans out…

‘The Devil You Know’ isn’t anything original as such. It’s a noir-esque detective story with gritty humour thrown in, but Carey, a man used to writing for the visual medium of graphic novels, paints pictures remarkably well. It has its flaws, of course: a lot of his humour and subtle sarcasm is extraordinarily British and I think it would be missed by a lot of people. Some of the pop-culture references he makes might also go unnoticed by those not native to the UK – but it makes a refreshing change to be able to physically insert yourself in the locations he mentions. Euston Station, Petticoat Lane, Cheapside…

Carey takes Felix Castor on one hell of a trip in this story and I’m glad I was there to accompany him.

I recommend this book highly.

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