Thomas Fool is an Information Man, an investigator tasked with cataloging and filing reports on the endless stream of violence and brutality that flows through Hell. His job holds no reward or satisfaction, because Hell has rules but no justice. Each new crime is stamped “Do Not Investigate” and dutifully filed away in the depths of the Bureaucracy. But when an important political delegation arrives and a human is found murdered in a horrific manner—extravagant even by Hell’s standards—everything changes. The murders escalate, and their severity points to the kind of killer not seen for many generations. Something is challenging the rules and order of Hell, so the Bureaucracy sends Fool to identify and track down the killer…
But how do you investigate murder in a place where death is common currency? Or when your main suspect pool is a legion of demons? With no memory of his past and only an irresistible need for justice, Fool will piece together clues and follow a trail that leads directly into the heart of a dark and chaotic conspiracy.
A revolution is brewing in Hell… and nothing is what it seems.
The Devil’s Detective is Simon Unsworth’s first novel. He’s been writing shorter horror fiction for quite some time, which I have not read. After reading this novel, though, I’ll be sure to check out more of his work. The Devil’s Detective is a masterful blend of horror and crime fiction, set in an evocative, unsettling take on Hell.
This is a tricky novel to review. So much of what Unsworth has written into the story is original and unsettling, and I could write a fair bit about them. However, that would throw out so many spoilers. So, read this review knowing that I would really like to write more. Unsworth has a great imagination. Twisted, mind…
Unsworth’s real talent is in world-building and generating tension. The Hell in his novel is possibly the best and most unsettling version I’ve read: it’s truly twisted, grim, and utterly brutal. The author has managed to incorporate some elements akin to the weirdness and brutality of what one finds in the Bible and classical artistic interpretations of hell – the fields of flame, the brutal Sisyphean tasks the Damned are assigned. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say his interpretation of limbo is chilling and unsettling. It’s an incredible, imaginative creation. Quite marvellous.
Unsworth’s prose is also excellent – the story flows brilliantly, offering the pacing of a great crime thriller, polished and direct. The mystery at the heart of the story progresses nicely, and the author provides hints and tidbits throughout that never give it away. The ending also promises quite interesting and big things for the sequel (which is in the works).
This is not a novel for the squeamish: there are some passages and descriptions of hellish punishments that had even me cringing (I’m not usually squeamish), and perhaps erred a tad closely to gratuitous. But, ultimately, it is in keeping with the “proper” Hell that Unsworth has created. I couldn’t help but be put in mind of Richard Kadrey’s and Teresa Frohock’s visions of Hell, only… even more grim. (In fact – if you enjoy those two authors’ work, then you should enjoy The Devil’s Detective, too.)
Simon Kurt Unsworth‘s The Devil’s Detective is published in the US by Doubleday on March 3rd; and in the UK by Del Rey, on March 12th. I was lucky to receive an eARC from the former and a physical review copy from the latter.
Full disclosure: I do some freelance work for Unsworth’s agent, which is how I originally discovered the novel.