The Devil You Know

~by Mike Carey
2007 British Fantasy Award Nominee

Mike Carey is probably best known for his work on Lucifer, a spin-off from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, and Hellblazer, Vertigo's longest running title. Carey's is a pretty recognizable name in the comics world, having written for a number of successful projects in addition to the two just mentioned. In 2006, the United Kingdom saw the debut of his first novel, The Devil You Know. We in the United States had to wait for over a year for the book to reach our shores. (Carey even stopped at my favorite comic shop on his book tour, but unfortunately I missed the chance to meet him.) It then took me a year and a half to get around to actually reading it. But that's okay--it just means I won't have to wait for the next book in the series, Vicious Circle, to be published.

Felix Castor used to be an fairly active exorcist-for-hire; his skills were much sought after ever since the dead inexplicably started hanging around more often and getting rowdy. However, he tried putting that life behind him when a job went very, very wrong and one of his closest friends ended up institutionalized. But making ends meet is tough without steady employment. Pen, his landlady and another good friend, is in danger of losing their house if he doesn't come up with some cash soon. So he reluctantly agrees to take a case at the London Bonnington Archive where a ghost that has been haunting the place for a few months has suddenly become violent. Unfortunately for Felix, this exorcism isn't as clear-cut as it seems and unexpected complications will threaten his life and challenge everything he thought he believed.

First things first: I absolutely loved that an archive was so prominently featured in the story, to the extent that I'm willing to be especially forgiving towards some of the books problems. Having worked at several archives myself, I can safely say that he gets pretty much everything right, even down to the attitudes and personalities of the types of people who work there without having to resort to stereotypes and other popular images and characterizations. I also particularly enjoyed how Carey was able to give his own little twists to exorcism, ghosts, and the otherworldly--something that's hard to do with tropes that have been used over and over, again and again.

I enjoyed The Devil You Know a great deal, and I really liked the character of Felix Castor. The fact that he uses music as his cantrip only serves to endear him to me even further. I also liked most of the other characters, particularly Pen and Rafi/Asmodeus, although very few were as fleshed out (heh heh) as I would have liked. Overall, Carey's writing style was quickly paced and at times abrupt, but always with a sense of humor (often dark) and even a bit of quirkiness to it, which I very much enjoyed. Occasionally there was a turn of phrase that seemed a little awkward, but I have a suspicion this probably has more to do with my British English being out of practice than anything else. I thought the case was wrapped up quite nicely, but I'm not sure that I completely buy the parting scene at the end of the book. I will admit though, I am very interested in seeing where Carey takes things with Vicious Circle.

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