The Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth
Doubleday/Random House, $25.95, 358 pages, ISBN 978-0-091956-51-6
We’re continuing with our Freak-Fest of weird reads in observance of Halloween, and you’d better brace yourself . . . because this one’s gonna be a wild ride. So far this month, we’ve covered fallen angels and a shattered New York City where the survivors zonk out, choosing to escape reality in an alternate World Wide Web. This week we’re going to Hell, where we’ll meet Thomas Fool.
The Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth is a debut novel that is so dark, so twisted and so original that it defies genre and nearly defies description. It’s a detective novel, a mystery, a thriller and a horror story. It’s all of those . . . and it’s none of them. It is one of the most inventive yarns I have ever read, one of the most fascinating and one of the most diabolic . . . but it’s not for the faint of heart. If you read it, be prepared for skinless, yellow-eyed and horned demons that come in all shapes and sizes, who feed on the flesh, negative emotions and souls of the humans serving time in Hell. An ocean of souls, washes up on the shores of Hell, waiting to be caught by a demon-fisher and given flesh, so they can complete their sentence—hoping to be chosen at random for ‘elevation’ to Heaven—never knowing why they’re in Hell, or for how long. Humans don’t live very many years before they’re killed by the demons and the whole process starts again. It’s pretty hopeless. But just like the state run lotteries, there’s a slim chance of winning, giving the humans the faintest glimmer of hope . . . which of course gets crushed over and over, again and again because, well . . . it’s Hell.
Every day and night, murders, rapes and assaults of all kinds take place in Hell. The crimes are noted and claims are filed. They come in canisters with ribbons tied around them which indicate their importance, type of crime and order of investigation. That’s where Thomas Fool comes in. He’s an information man, one of only three in all of Hell, and charged with investigating crimes. Nearly every one of the pneumatic canisters are marked DNI with an official rubber stamp for Did Not Investigate, then returned via the tube it came in. It’s routine: see a crime, file a complaint, it gets returned DNI. But when a canister drops in with a blue ribbon wrapped around it, it’s of the highest order and cannot be ignored. It comes from the ruling echelon. Top priority. Do it or else . . .
Which is just what happens as Fool is busy escorting, protecting and guiding a just- arrived delegation of four angels, down from Heaven to negotiate terms of elevation for the next group chosen to ascend.
The blue ribbon bound canister demands immediate action. But when he gets to the scene of the crime, Fool makes a shocking discovery; a murder more terrible than anything ever seen, horrible even by Hell’s standards . . . then it happens again . . . and again. Something’s going on in Hell. Something is changing. Something is putting monstrous forces in motion that may be uncontrollable, and only a man named Fool has any chance of stopping them! The Devils Detective is astonishing, totally original and absolutely warped. I loved it!