By Cheryl Morgan
Mike Carey has featured in these pages before only as the scriptwriter for the comic version of Neil Gaimanís Neverwhere. Heís doing a fine job with it too. But he also writes his own stuff. He has worked on comics such as Hellblazer and Lucifer, and now he has a novel. As you might expect from the title, not to mention from his comics work, The Devil You Know is a horror-related book, but it is pretty squarely in the "supernatural detective" sub-genre rather than anything splatter-worthy. The hero, Felix Castor, is a ghost hunter of sorts. That is, he happens to be one of those people who can see ghosts, and sometimes persuade them to go away. Sometimes people pay him to make them go away. This is not always a good thing, especially for Castor, so he tries not to get involved. But sometimes, like all of the best private eyes, he needs the money.
Of course the clients are often the problem. Take Jeffrey Peele for example. The Director of the Bonnington Archive doesnít have much time for ghosts or ghost hunters, and he thinks that getting rid of a ghost should be simply a matter of laying down some anti-ghost powder in the areas it frequents, whereupon it will go away. Like mice, you know. Except that ghosts are not mice, they are people. And one of the things you need to do in order to get rid of a ghost is find out who they are and why they are haunting the place. Thankfully the archive is full of musty old documents. The chances are that the ghost came in with a recent acquisition, and that it is centuries dead. But if that is so, why is Castorís demon-possessed friend, Rafi, advising him not to take the case? And why has an unpleasant East End brothel owner suddenly taken an interest in Castor?
Carey is in that fine tradition of British comics writers who have made it big in American comics. His knowledge of London is clear for all to see. Indeed, there are things in the book that may be completely opaque to US readers. I donít suppose many of them will know who Kenneth Wolstenholme was, or why he said, "They think it is all over," but almost everyone in Britain knows. I can explain if you really need to know. And indeed I can explain to Carey why Australians have a fondness for putting raptors on wine bottle labels, something he seems rather confused about.
Enough with the detail, however, you want impressions. The Devil You Know is a well-written, entertaining supernatural noir detective story. It has a lot of the usual silly boy stuff about punching each other out, but thatís only to be expected. And Castor isnít exactly your traditional thriller hero. Quite the opposite, in fact. Heís really very human, as are most of the other characters in the book. A good horror story can be as much about human failings as about the supernatural, and many of the "bad guys" in Careyís book are simply people who are failing at life, not people who are bad through and though (though it has a few of them too).
Then there is Juliet. Nothing wrong with having a succubus as a character in a horror novel, says I. The girl has a Nature. It isnít her fault she gets up to bad things. Besides, she has a certain amount of class. It would appear that there are to be more books about Mr. Castor, and that Juliet will be in them too. I suspect I may read them just to see what she gets up to.