The Devil You Know by Mike Carey

My latest assignment for Hachette was the third book in Mike Carey’s Felix Castor dark fantasy series, and I prepped by reading the first book, The Devil You Know, over the holidays. The main character Felix Castor is something of a paranormal sleuth based in London; he is an exorcist in a world where the newly dead constantly impinge on the living world and finds his services needed a fair amount. After the millennium, the world found itself full of ghosts, zombies, werewolves, and demons, and Felix has been able to ply a childhood talent into a livelihood.

When The Devil You Know opens, Felix has given up exorcising for the moment and tries to pay off his friend and landlord by freelancing as a magician. Felix mucks that job up, but he is offered one that he can’t refuse–to exorcise a ghost who is haunting a library archive and causing bodily injury to its employees. Felix takes on the task, and with his instrument of choice at hand, he makes contact with the ghost at the archive.

Felix’s particular way with exorcising is through music–using his tin whistle he is able to find a melody that represents the essence of the apparition and to send it away beyond the earthly dimension. Where the spirits go, Felix doesn’t know, and he doesn’t care until he takes on this job and is unexpectedly saved by the ghost whom he is supposed to be destroying.

Carey excels in describing the paranormal in his Felix Castor series. The fifth dimension comes alive in a new and fresh way, past the usual clichés of hair raising on the back of the neck and creaking floorboards. In The Devil You Know, Carey takes the reader through a blow-by-blow affair with a succubus, doing what she does best, who becomes a delightful character in the story. Carey’s zombies are sentient, and he gives a credible explanation of their decomposing flesh and what a zombie can and cannot do to prolong their life.

Though Castor battles the undead, he finds that one of the most important questions about humanity, What happens to us when we die?, is still unanswerable. Indeed, he encounters many of the undead grappling with that question still, unwilling to give up their steely grip on the earthly plane. These are weighty topics, but The Devil You Know reads almost as black comedy so witty is the main character Felix Castor. Castor has much in common with Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe right down to the highly original similes that he spouts. I’ll definitely be pursuing this series in the future.

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