4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Seedy, grimy, scary and gripping,
This review is from: The Devil You Know: A Felix Castor Novel, vol 1 (Paperback)
The Devil You Know is the first in a series about a character called Felix Castor, an exorcist. The book was also Carey's first prose novel, although you would never know it because it is just that good. The easiest way to describe this book in terms of genre is supernatural noir, or dark urban fantasy. This isn't the first urban fantasy novel I've read, but it was the most shocking and disturbing, not because the other stories were any less adult, but because Castor lives in a grimy, seedy and dark version of London. Some might say it's merely a copy of the real world, and all Carey has done is add a touch of the supernatural to a world I don't know about, which is possible, but I kind of hope not. There are good people in the Castor novels, but there seem to be lot more who are much worse. Maybe it's because of the jobs Castor has to take and sort of people he meets, but even so after reading one of these novels I have to read something lighter afterwards.
So that gives you an idea of the mood of the book, but it is also a story rich in the history of London, the culture, the melting pot of millions of people from a hundred different countries, each with their own customs and beliefs. On top of this Carey has created a world where exorcists are reasonably common and people know that ghosts and other types of spirits exist, such as the walking dead or zombies if you prefer. Some of these generic terms might put images in your mind of what to expect, but Carey has taken them and made them his own. The walking dead are not brain eating shufflers, and ghosts are not always angry poltergeists or aimless spirits that haunt old buildings. There is a complicated religious and political struggle about the rights of these beings, but it is an undercurrent in the book and not the main story. Carey delicately sets up and introduces you to a version of the world that is both familiar and also scary. The dead are rising in big numbers, no one knows why, but people like Castor and other exorcists are needed to get rid of the unfriendly ones.
Felix Castor is not particularly a nice guy. He tries to do well and has good intentions, but we all know about the famous saying and where that road leads. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot to like about Castor, Fix to his friends, and as the story develops you begin to find out why he is an exorcist, but Fix is also very flawed. He is of average height, build, and has no specialist martial art skills or a heritage that is seven generations old. Because he is weak at times, rude and loud when he should be courteous and quiet, he seems more real. He is the little guy who often gets caught up in some invisible machine and if he does nothing, it will chew him up and spit him out in pieces. So he fights to survive, he kicks off, he makes a fuss and sticks a giant spanner in the work. As a result he often gets the job done, but offends a lot of people in the process which can ostracise him. The problem is he doesn't even get along very well with other exorcists, because they're all people and as a rule he doesn't really like people. He has few friends and is trying to just exist instead of living his life. The reason is because he made a terrible mistake and doesn't know how to get past it, so he is just cruising along.
Down on his luck, going nowhere, Fix takes a job against his wishes, but he needs money to live. This kicks him out of the doldrums, and without any spoilers, he investigates a haunting at a document archive that takes him to some very dark and unpleasant places in the city. This also forces him to rub shoulders with some seedy people and stick his nose into their business to get to the bottom of what happened. They don't want him there, kicking up dust, but he doesn't care and more often than not he steps on a few toes. Fix is a very multi-layered and complex character. Someone to be admired for his determination and sense of justice, but also someone to be pitied for other reasons I won't go into. The Devil You Know is a brutal story at times and we find out a bit more about Fix's worst mistake that also it hints as other supernatural things beyond the ghosts and spirits. If you like a mystery novel, if you like crime and noir, but also urban fantasy that is down and dirty, then this is the book for you. There are currently five books in the series at present. Each is a standalone story but they are also building towards something.