The Devil’s Detective

I have just received this Del Rey published novel entitled ‘The Devil’s Detective’ (2015) by Simon Kurt Unsworth from Amazon UK.

DEVIL

My long-term ‘relationship’ with the work of Simon Kurt Unsworth linked from HERE.

When I happen to read this book, I intend to conduct one of my increasingly noticeable real-time book reviews in the comment stream below…

19 thoughts on “The Devil’s Detective

  1. PART ONE: INFORMATION

    Prologue, One
    I have heard a lot about this novel, but nothing prepared me for the dipping of my soul into a world that seemed to hug all round me, in this proto-Blakean Vision of Hell, a real Hell, one with mechanics of etiquette in its relations to various visiting denizens from Heaven, plus the Fallen, the Human, the Demon, and the marginally Investigative, and the who knows what. The angelwing feather given as a peace offering and why would there be such exchange at all? Too many questions, but all answerable by an avernal instinct that seems to be steeped within the paper-borne text itself. The characters, the colour codes of investigation jobs, the railways and industry, and what eats at corpses from below in the undersunk.
    As I am already ill myself before starting this book, I might have reason to think that this book will cure me retrocausally by some ironic back-to-frontness, or rather by some down-to-upness?
    “…the helplessness of someone who saw their own death, or something worse, approaching and could do nothing about it.”

  2. Two, Three
    “Sometimes, the dead held images of the last thing they had seen in their eyes, frozen into the jelly,…”
    Well, I am not surprised; this is astonishing stuff, and one needs to be a cerebral detective oneself as a reader to latch on to the well-characterised relationships and limbo-corrupted interactions. It would spoil it to be more specific, but my whole flesh as well as mind (or soul?) needs to understand and experience it to the bottom bone, and you will know what I mean when you read it. The reader is Fool, too, as it were. So what can I say in this review if I can’t trace out its plot for fear of spoilers like Demons? Well, I am going through my own personal Hell at the moment, and I intend to make this book my rite of passage through it. Welcoming something is as good as fighting it, I guess.
    As an additional point, I have just started a review of another book (here), a book that arrived in the same delivery today as this Unsworth one. And that quote that I gave above about ‘eyes’ and this Unsworth Book’s concept of both the body and mind being Questioned separately arguably relate to the HG Wells quote (“…it may be possible to live visually in one part of the world, while one lives bodily in another.”) printed with the Gary Budgen story and to the nature of that story itself that I reviewed an hour so ago.

  3. Four
    “…the Sorrowful have something worse than no hope, they have some hope.”
    This is not just any old ordinary book; this is something special, up with literary classics as well as genre ones. The interplay of the Hellish pecking orders here, the random hopes for Elevation, the Lowering, the blade-running moeurs of the various participants, the protagonist Fool’s awareness of all the deaths he investigates, and all the same deaths he never solves, giving a very human ‘spread’ to these non-human entities. The human condition as a multi-monster Hell. And there is so much going on here, some with very subtle links and others with straightforward ones, characters to be met and interviewed like an old-fashioned Burke’s Law TV detective show, characters that want to meet the detective, like the character with a hobby of collecting inimical plants… An Elias Canetti’s ‘Crowds and Power’ or ‘Auto da Fe’? A Wyndham Lewis ‘Malign Fiesta’ or ‘Monstre Gai’?
    Highly sophisticated as a whole but also deliciously infernal and trashily nasty. Real nasty. And I, the gestalt real-time reviewer, try to pick my way through it… “The job of the Information Men, he often thought, was not so much to gather information as to sift through it, trying to find the common threads amongst all the differences.”

  4. Five, Six
    “Under the slow crawl of warm water, Fool had cleaned himself as best he could, using a rough cloth to make sure his skin was free of both demon and human blood.”
    As I go through this book, I am not going to repeat myself. Please take it as read that this vision of Hell is significant, as is the character of Thomas Fool, bound to go down as a legendary creation once people are used to the existence of this book and how influential it will become. Take it as read, too, that this Hell, upon the edge of Limbo, is described more believably and powerfully than any other vision of Hell I have experienced before in art, religion or literature, and its interacting denizens are now beginning truly to live, human ones as well as demon, fleshes as well as eatable souls. Meanwhile, I feel I am somehow slowly becoming in league with this Hell’s ‘Man’ character whom Thomas Fool is asked to investigate by Demons. The ‘Man’ seems to be strutting around like Hell’s own live-in real-time reviewer with preternatural gestalt powers…

  5. Seven, Eight
    “We are placed in positions designated us by architects that we may never know, in structures we only see the barest fragments of. These are the mechanics of Hell, Thomas.”
    … and indeed you gain that whole sense from this book, even that you the reader are less passive than when reading other more ordinary books. It is a shuddersome feeling and I almost wished I hadn’t started this pro-active review of what I have already called an ‘influential’ book. These two chapters you will never forget about one of Hell’s Orphanages and the nature of the Orphans, and the death of a human spear-carrier. Those who are reading this book as great literature (as it surely will become) rather than as a Horror Story (which it also is, in spades) will find some of these scenes a veritable Baptism of Fire. And I sense here a new slant on the nature itself of flames, that there are more than one kind of flame in Hell, a fact which in turn puts a new slant on the nature of Hell as we have understood it heretofore. The evolutionary nature of Hell, what’s more.

  6. Nine
    This is no mere horror novel, no mere crime detective fiction, no mere fantasy of the afterworld (although it is all these things); sometimes I also think it’s ground-breakingly religious in its own right, creating transcendent truth, visions that are designed to rhapsodise as well as shock. A pang of yearning to be something fished, say, from Limbo, into a form of flesh or life, be it in the Hell of Hell itself or the Hell of the sort of world the book’s readers may see themselves to have once been plummeted. Meanwhile, Fool is astonished at the way he is able to act out of character (as a suddenly free agent?), as if he has now left the control of the so-called freehold architect of this book. Perhaps that is why that architect called him Fool. Why that architect allowed himself to be called Unsworth? The reader, too, or at least this reader. Let us all eat our own dirt.

  7. Ten, Eleven
    “…Fool watched as the Man moved in a constant undulation, the sound of him like paper constantly being drawn across paper.”
    I am dealing here, I guess, with a gestalt reincarnation or para-incarnation of Ariosto, Dante, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Blake, Crowley, Canetti, Wyndham Lewis, King, Unsworth….“‘I don’t understand,’ said Fool. He understood so little, not Hell nor Heaven, certainly not demons nor angels nor people.”… provoking me to think of my own earlier references to ‘The Tenacity of Feathers’ and ‘Horror Without Victims’ and, with Gordie having to be dredged back into memory, of another new book I read recently: Ishiguro’s Mistiaeval novel entitled ‘The Buried Giant’…
    “… to punish Fool for allowing himself to be noticed, for being a human who had the temerity to be something other than a victim,…”

  8. Twelve
    I must not give the impression that this book is only (only?) a spiritual or visionary experience, which it is. It is also a highly paced fiction with an incontrovertible sense of place (that is further described in this section with trains and factories), and with an enthralling investigation of the crimes transpiring between Hell’s various races, crimes involving flesh trades, gunfights, soul eating, demon killing, penis plucking, and all manner of evolving machinations. Characters like Fool and his lady colleague called Summer now seem to be free-wheeling without Unsworth’s connivance, I sense, and I am sorry I called Gordie a spear-carrier. I now realise he wasn’t. Summer seems to have lost part of herself to a new self. And so Ishiguro’s recent Mistiaevality continues to come to mind. Sometimes I even suspect that this book’s many literary precursors or authorial contemporaries have not influenced this book as such but have just been autonomously preparing the ground for it within a retrocausal streaming back from it. If this work is about the Devil’s Detective, one needs to know who or what the Devil is, if it is not the person with his name on the spine, someone who seems to have relinquished control to a greater control elsewhere.

  9. Pingback: D.F Lewis conducts real-time book review of The Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth. | Del Rey UK

  10. Thirteen, Fourteen
    One of the many brilliant slants upon this vision of Hell is the intermittent presence of Angel visitors as they coolly watch Fool developing as a character (not only a development of character as a normal novelistic device but also the genuine self-development of his own character outwith the constraints of the novel), Angels coolly watching him as he works to solve the crimes, crimes he is now Quixotically determined to solve where he has never solved them before. This sardonic Angelic immanence, their deigning to intervene on certain aspects of crowds-and-power control, their towering self-importance, but I sense their vulnerability, too — a masterstroke in the pattern of this novel’s infernal world, subtly sophisticated as well as simple.

  11. PART TWO: TRAILS

    Fifteen, Sixteen
    “‘I’m following a trail,’ he said, eventually. ‘There are signs being left, like pieces of a puzzle, a guess, each one a few steps further on than the last, and it might lead somewhere. I don’t know.'”
    … and, thus, Fool, by not knowing, is uncertain, with such ‘uncertainty’ even now infecting the Demons. ‘Man’ does know, however, with every bit of his certainty woven into the text, more certain even than the author who first laid this trap of text; within the text ‘Man’ is the landscape and the plants all interacting organically as his own ‘unique’ Hell of parts, growing autonomously (like a cancer?) from the text. I am trying to rival ‘Man’ by making a gestalt from outside the text with this real-time review of various parts of it, while it is really the ‘Man’ within the text who is trying to outdo me with his know-how from actually being within it, infecting me and my review with uncertainty, too. I am Fool, Fool is me. But the story – by number of pages – is only halfway over.

  12. Seventeen
    I couldn’t go to bed, leaving it like that. I now follow Fool toward which trail Man’s lead leads him, to a more intrinsic part of Hell called the Heights where, in the same breath, the name ‘Satan’ is used I think for the first time, making me remember that Hell has a hinterland of vintage, an evolutionary history going back to when all lived in flame. Now it’s a more cosmopolitan place, I guess, like much of the world we know. The Heights is a sort of mutant Gormenghast, where some of the oldest of Hell lurk and where Fool seeks the culprit of the crimes he seeks to solve. This has become a book of fiction again, thanks goodness, not a real rite of passage that affects me personally. Till tomorrow or whenever I pick this book up again. And remember no spoilers.
    “Everything dreamed of somewhere else; everyone dreamed of something different.”

  13. There is also a painterly quality to this book. I listed some literary symbioses as gestalt above, and I will now repeat two names in this painterly connection, Wyndham Lewis and William Blake, as well as, of course, Bosch, and other painters I am sure many of us will mention in this connection: Goya, Rubens, Friedrich, Grosz, Dix, Bacon, Burra, Munch… Some of Unsworth’s entities in his Hell, as visualised by the reader, seem even beyond the scope of any of these painters. And one cannot give the book a greater compliment.

  14. Eighteen, Nineteen
    “‘God’s love is even here, although it may take forms that we cannot comprehend.’ / Fool looked about him, wondering where God was hiding. In the mud? In the earthen slope, where tangled roots jutted from the soil? In the shit and blood? It seemed impossible.”
    I am somewhat relieved I was on a wrong trail, along with Fool, vis a vis the ‘Man’. There is much more to this book than any one reader can scry. I have long been an exponent of all readers banding together triangulating a gestalt from all individual gestalts about a book (e.g. here). The scene with Fool’s feather from ‘The Tenacity of Feathers’ and the Ligottian outcome regarding the nature of ‘Man’ is a significant moment yet to be triangulated by all readers.
    Meanwhile, having just mentioned this book’s painterly quality, I wondered how it fits in with my long-term interest in atonal ‘classical’ music and realised that this Hell is howly. Music by Xenakis as one obvious loud example. And Webern, for the book’s lower-timbre sound qualities. The contrast within ‘classical’ and ‘atonal’ as a unity seems to describe this book perfectly. (And by the way, before I forget, I love this book’s character called Elderflower!)
    “Perhaps this is how Hell used to be, Fool thought, hot and loud and full of death and pain.”

  15. Twenty
    “He felt like Hell’s earth was dropping away from under him, leaving him in free fall, dizzy with something that might have been exhilaration or might have been terror.”
    The concept of Hell founded on some ‘earth’ is one with which to conjure. For me, Fool now as unwilling Protagonist has become some form of Hawler (my term) of Hell, amid its riots resulting from the crimes that Fool is trying to solve, where he is now becoming an unlikely and uncertain Quixotic freedom fighter, in a suspenseful action-filled chase (utterly well-written by an author who, somehow, is just as much an instrument of this powerful book as Fool is) with results that shocked me (and probably the author, too) with another spear-carrier’s gory end. But not a spear, rather a distaff… Not a carrier, rather a Protagonista…
    The question remains, meanwhile – who is the Antagonist?
    Also, on a personal level, this Hell has resonance with a ‘genius loci’ within another major novel of recent months (my review of it here), a Hell with elements of the Southern Reach of Area X’s Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance, except here the order of those three words may be different?

  16. Twenty-one, Twenty-two
    “Perhaps I amuse them. Perhaps they like seeing this story unfold, like reading its progress in the bruises and wounds I carry. Perhaps I make them smile, little stupid pointless Fool that I am.”
    I predict Thomas Fool with his feather is destined to become a major literary character like Don Quixote, or Tom Jones, or Robinson Crusoe, or Lemuel Gulliver. Mark my words. He is also a Pied Piper manqué through the Pipes of Hell.
    This together with the precarious philosophy of randomness as a Hellish punishment, the pessimum of no hope but with little hope. Fool as well as Author, with Hell pivoting around them, would they rather have crawled into a quiet corner?
    And in these chapters, we learn that there is an actual hospital in Hell! One of its nurses a man called Drow, which makes this whole book potentially another example of a Narrative Hospital, I guess, when you turn his name back to front. Now the Precariousness is that of Writerly Creation…
    “People were swept away by Hell’s storms, caught up by water that carried so much mud and dirt that it was rumoured to be like being struck by liquid stone.”

    There will now be a break from reading and reviewing this book for at least a day or so.

  17. Coda to my review, as it turns out.

    PART THREE – ELEVATIONS

    Twenty-Three to Epilogue
    “He was Hell’s Information Man, the only one there was, and he would not hide. / Next to the angels, he still felt lumpen and imperfect.”
    I felt impelled to read the last hundred pages in effectively a single sitting, not necessarily because of their page-turning compulsion, although certain realisations made me keep turning the pages till they ran out. But did they run out in a lingering musical ‘dying fall’ as I hoped or an ill-crafted bathos? Also, I felt unable to conduct a real-time review of each manageable section of Part Three, as I had done with the first two Parts, because of the risk of spoilers and also because I was beginning to over-dose, yes, over-dose, on Unsworth’s otherwise astonishing action-filled Hellishly gruesome, almost spiritually inspiring, scenario, which I had relished heretofore. Meanwhile, I confirm that I am not a keen reader of whodunnits, and I rarely predict their outcomes, and this aspect of the book presented no exception for me. I continue to love the tenor of this book and everything I said up to the end of Part Two above (where the book’s text ends with the single paragraph: ‘Fool slept.’) still stands. It is indubitably a classic book, the one I have described throughout this review – but it would have been an even greater book perhaps if it had ended there with the perfectly unresolved ‘dying fall’ of Fool sleeping while waiting for the next day, a day that never comes either for him or for us.
    Part Three: this novel’s Book of Revelation or its Apocrypha? Whatever the answer, ‘The Devil’s Detective’ presents a historic vision of Hell that will stain literature indelibly from this point on.
    end

  18. Pingback: Review, by D F Lewis, of my story ‘Blinding a Few Dogs’ from Sensorama | Gary Budgen

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