Simon Kurt Unsworth’s The Devil’s Detective is, as the title suggests, a hard-boiled detective novel set in Hell. Unsworth has crafted a tightly plotted noir mystery filled with a number of twists and turns, but the real strength of the novel is in its intricately realized depiction of Hell.
Thomas Fool is an Information Man in Hell. His job is to investigate, catalogue, and file reports on the endless stream of violence and death. He dutifully makes his reports to the Bureaucracy, but there is no justice, no arrests, and no punishment. His job is to fruitlessly gather information. That is the punishment for his unknown sins, but like everyone else, he has no recollection of his previous life. He only knows that he must atone. When a delegation from Heaven arrives to negotiate with Hell’s Bureaucracy, a human body is discovered with its soul completely devoured. The worst thing you can do in Hell is attract attention, and as the murders escalate, Fool suddenly finds himself in the middle of a vast conspiracy. Hell is in the midst of a revolution and Fool has a role to play whether he wants to or not.
Unsworth’s Hell is a place of uncertainty and random violence. Demons resent the humans moving in, and attack them without warning and without punishment. Once a place of absolute burning Hell has changed into something more subtle. The tortures are deeper and more psychological. It is a place of metaphysical horror, where hope is the greatest cruelty of all.
The Devil’s Detective is a marvelous debut—a page-turning mystery, an exploration of human nature, and a darkly absurdist take on Hell itself. Unsworth’s imagination is fertile and his prose is lyrical. Highly recommended. My favorite book of the year so far.
The Devil’s Detective can be found here on Amazon
Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review
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