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The Devil You Know
Mike Carey
Orbit paperback £6.99

review by Alasdair Stuart

Felix Castor has a problem. In fact, he has several but top of the list is the fact that Castor doesn't want to do the one thing he's good at anymore. A professional exorcist, Castor's final job was northing short of a catastrophe and he's forced to take on any work that's going in order to make ends meet. Until he gets a message telling him he's going to make a mistake. Then he makes it anyway.

Mike Carey is best known for his long runs on Hellblazer and Lucifer, two of the most successful horror comics of all time, and he brings that same sensibility to this, his first original novel. Hellblazer fans will find themselves on familiar ground with Castor, a faintly tragic, deeply sarcastic figure who cuts a distinctly Marlowe-esque figure throughout the novel. He's permanently down on his luck, permanently down at heel and painfully human, making the situation he has to deal with all the more unusual.

Castor's world is arguably one of the best takes on the 'supernatural is everyday' genre that Orbit have pioneered. Here, the dead, along with numerous other supernatural creatures, gradually make their return to Earth and the overall effect is strangely muted. The only real changes are that every building has wards protecting it from unwelcome visitors and people like Castor can find gainful employment. I've read countless contemporary supernatural thrillers over the last few years but none of the worlds have rung quite as true as this one. Werewolves may stalk the streets but people are still people and Carey never lets us forget that, especially as the plot progresses. There's a nice balance struck here between the supernatural and the far more disturbing savagery we perpetrate on one another, throwing both Castor and the reader off balance more than once.

Thankfully, Castor has a richly detailed supporting cast to draw on. His sometime-Catholic, sometime-wiccan-priestess landlady, Pen, is particularly impressive and Carey draws the complicated and extremely dark relationship between them extremely well. Other standouts include a zombie conspiracy theorist and the staff of the Bonnington Archive, the building Castor has been hired to exorcise. Through them in particular, Carey shows us different aspects both of Castor and his world as they all react differently to the presence of the ghost.

A massively impressive prose debut, this is a weighty novel that moves at breakneck speed. Carey writes with confidence, style and a jet-black sense of humour and by the end of the novel you'll be clamouring for the sequel. It looks like Felix Castor will be gainfully employed for a long time to come.
The Devil You Know

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