The Devil's Detective

The Devil's Detective: A Novel - Simon Kurt Unsworth

(I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

First thing first: if you're looking for nice things, Happy Ever Afters and something else than bleak prospects, this is not the book for you. But the fact it's set in Hell, only in Hell and nowhere else, makes this fact kind of obvious anyway.

Thomas Fool is one of Hell's few "Information Men", meant to investigate crimes yet knowing that whatever the outcome, it won't matter. Whether murderers get punished or not doesn't matter, whether people die or not doesn't matter—it's Hell, and it's nonsense, and the whole nonsense of it bears down upon every inhabitant, even the demons themselves. There are rules to follow, and all of Hell's prisoners do, in the flimsy hope of being Elevated someday, freed and sent to Heaven, following a process of selection whose rules themselves are all but logical. Joy and hope? Of course there is: so that they can be better quashed.

It was sometimes a little difficult to make up my mind about this novel, as some of its defects also contribute to making its strengths. The characters in general are sort of bleak, unremarkable, lost within an investigation that doesn't really seem important, like puppets stringed around while being totally aware of what they are. It was somewhat tedious at times, yet it fit pretty well into the Hell setting, into its "why bother" atmosphere. I would not necessarily care for what happened to whom, yet at the same time, I did, because it reinforced the feeling of a twisted structure here. (I was peeved however at the women's roles: they were either absent/in the background or clearly too stupid to live anyway.)

Hell's descriptions were vivid and made it easy to picture what Fool and his partners had to go through, as gruesome and malevolent as both places and inhabitants were. In the beginning, I expected more; later, it didn't feel so important, as what was described became enough for me to form my own vision of Hell, and adding more would've actually been too much.

Dialogues were definitely of the weak sort, especially because of the various repetitions and name-dropping. For instance, one character kept calling Fool "Thomas" several times in the span of a few sentences only, and this happened more than just once of twice. Fool's and some others' lines were also often reduced to "Yes" or "No", and those became quickly annoying.

Another issue: guessing who the perp was. Way, way too easy. It made sense fairly early in the novel, and it was equally annoying to see Fool & Co not doing the math. Granted, their investigations often fell into the "Did Not Investigate" category (Hell made it so that it was pointless for them to investigate most crimes in general), and I guess one could say they weren't "used" to doing it, but... It was still annoying when Fool openly admitted to himself not understanding something that should've been obvious.

2.5 stars for the depiction of Hell, and how the story made clear that pointlessness, twisted logices and bleak surroundings can be turned into something as terrible as fiery pits and physical pain. The reader doesn't get hammered with God and Satan, and has to make their own idea of whether this would truly be a kind of Hell for them. As an investigation/mystery type of story, though, or in terms of interesting characters, it didn't work well.