Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Loney - The Devil's Detective

Has anyone read both THE LONEY by Andrew Michael Hurley and THE DEVIL'S DETECTIVE by Simon Kurt Unsworth? These are completely different plots and styles, completely different books altogether. Yet, I am struck with the serendipitous resonance between each book concerning the nature of Hell, Heaven and Purgatory, and a 'conflict' between a Good and Bad Priest in one and a Good and Bad Angel in the other.
And the relativities of Good and Bad.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Loney

The Loney – Andrew Michael Hurley

By Andrew Michael Hurley

Tartarus Press 2014

This book was recently purchased from the publisher.

My previous reviews of Tartarus Press books HERE.

I intend to review this book as and when I happen to read it and these comments will appear in the comment stream below…
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15 responses to “The Loney – Andrew Michael Hurley

  1. Pages 1 – 4
    In my real-time reviewing since 2008, I rarely reveal, while reading a book, serendipities or synchronicities that cannot be checked independently. But this book starts with a gale connected to Parliament Hill only a half an hour after I was checking out (for a specific purpose) an old letter from a friend, a letter that I filed some years ago in which he talks about going for a walk and seeing people taking advantage of the wind on Parliament Hill by flying their kites. Then this book reveals its ‘genius loci’ with these words: “…but the locals called it The Loney — that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune…”, and I recalled that that same friend once lived, while a student at Lancaster University in the late sixties, at Sunderland Point which, I vaguely recall, was also a sort of nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune, if not the same place as The Loney?
  2. As the epistolarian to whom you allude, I can reveal that — strange as Sunderland Point certainly was — it is not part of The Loney, as here described. The Wyre is to the south of the Lune, and Sunderland Point is on the north bank of the latter river at the point at which it debouches into Morecambe Bay. As one stands on the beach at Sunderland Point, one looks upon The Loney, but it is another land.
    When I lived at Sunderland Point, it was reached via a tidal road. One of my closer approaches to death was on a night when I misjudged the state of the tide. Before I reached Sunderland Point, I was wading waist deep in fast flowing water. The circumstances would have only needed to be a little different for me to drown that night.
    I believe that, since I last visited Sunderland Point (in the late 1960s), a non-tidal road has been built. As a result, I imagine, what was (in my time) a place more akin weird fiction than dull reality has probably been transformed into bijou housing for the middle classes — Lancaster University academics and other such nonsense. I find that a sad prospect, and rarely think on it.
  3. Pages 4 – 22
    “Perhaps being a priest was like being a fish. Immersion for life.”
    It’s as if I am being pulled into a time-textured situation of a believable Catholic family, their priests, their Easter pilgrimages from London (to the Loney), a texture that needs working at and will no doubt need working back out to tell you of it. I don’t intend to itemise the plot as I proceed but mainly its effect upon me, and so far I am utterly fascinated by the narrator’s description of the earlier time when he was at the Loney, the down and out whom he and his brother Hanny met there when they were younger. And later the nature of Hanny himself, and I wonder how he developed from a child of special needs (I infer) to a pastor with a family and a published book behind him (I again infer). Feeling my way, but I am already enthralled.
  4. Pages 22 – 55
    “Only the water stains on the ceiling had grown. The dark patches had assumed the shapes of foreign countries, and a succession of tide lines showed how the empire of dampness had expanded year on year since we’d last been.”
    The narrator, his well-characterised family and other members of the church and its new priest, (involving engaging references and nicknames like Matt Monro, the Lone Ranger, Tonto et al) travel back, after a number of years, to The Loney, on pilgrimage to its shrine, at least in some eyes, to help his brother Hanny’s muted condition, I infer. Without double-checking, I am not sure if we have even been made aware of the narrator’s own name? But we vividly experience, through his eyes, the rediscovery of this old haunt, the atmospheric old house, the ominous locals as if fresh from the Wicker Man, and listen to someone’s ‘confession’, via a triple barrier as it were of information channeled through various people, through the ad hoc confessional curtain, then through the thin bedroom wall, then through the paper wall of text itself (like Chinese whispers?)…
    Having now set the story, as I see it so far, I shall now hopefully devote this review to impressions rather than condensed specifics!
    Meanwhile, Lone(y) Ranger?
  5. Pages 56 – 83
    “I can’t seem to do or say anything without him making a note of it. I feel like a damn specimen.”
    Nicknamed Tonto by this priest, the narrator who is addressed, I think, with only the surname Smith while his ostensibly defective brother is called Hanny (Andrew) Smith. Is the narrator really the narrator, i.e. ‘God’ of the book by some (T)ontology? The priest (the past priest as well as the present one on the current pilgrimage) is pervasive, as is The Loney’s ‘sense of place’ being artfully built up with the boys’ rediscovery of the ‘pillbox’ (another Word or Logos for a church or Hanny’s miracle cure?) with the remembered foil of Smith’s past attending a London church where he was ‘altar boy’. The old Loney house that is ‘primed’ like the land outside to have sudden unexpected turnings, now a secret room… One really gets to feel the nature of these various characters and of some pent up ominousness of others around, including the preening, sloping, spivvy family of three (one of them very young, wheelchaired and heavily pregnant) seen by the boys in the area. Matt Monro had the first hit with the famous song ‘Yesterday’, even before the Beatles. Here, his namesake is the priest’s Dog…
  6. Pages 84 – 102
    “The thing you have to remember about the tides here, is that no one can say they know them. Not really.”
    …including the tides of this book’s narrative (intentional or not) or the various subjective tides of understanding the text by any single reader. The importance of suffering. The importance of not getting cut off by these tides – cut off by them from God (or drowned by them to ease our path towards Him), cut off from the inculcated past, or simply from our own self? And the empty coat hooks and smell of gabardine in the other house in this book, like a waft of Elizabeth Bowen, such as her brief story with the one word title of ‘Love’, or like a shade of Robert Aickman? A fragment or a fracturing.
  7. Pages 103 – 129
    “Hell was a place ruled by the logic of children.”
    I hope I am not giving the impression this is an abstruse book from which one needs to dig out its symbolism, although it may also be that on the quiet. No, it is predominantly an easy evocative style that tells a page-turning story of a community’s various characters, mysteries, darknesses, effigies and ominous threats – threaded through with the backstory of Smith’s earlier London childhood when, say, onanism (Loneyism?) was punished by the priest with stinging nettles or threats of Hell. I have not yet gleaned any authorial or narrative slant on the Catholic ethos with which this story is imbued, one with vivid descriptions of Hell based on the local community’s Church of The Sacred Heart, a sense of the Eucharistic, the Confessionary, the Curative and the Penitential. This ethos just is. Beautifully if neutrally described. But I suppose this depends with what baggage any single reader actually brings to this book.
    Meanwhile, I have been wondering why Smith calls his parents Mummer and Farther. The latter name would need to be spelt out in writing to differentiate it from Father as in Father Bernard or Father Wilfred.
  8. Pages 130 – 154
    “Perhaps they had got it wrong, or the old stories had succumbed to Chinese whispers as old stories do.”
    Smith, as our presumably reliable narrator, often furthers the purposes of the plot by overhearing and reporting upon various makeshift confessions officiated by Father Bernard. And by this means we learn more of the backstory concerning his predecessor, Father Wilfred. Inferred money-laundering, ancient taxidermy and Hanny’s unrequited love, too. I am, of course, a reliable reviewer, but you will have to read this book to be absolutely sure. A book’s still mysterious world as ontology concerning the Existence of an Author who writes about God. Or from God. Or, even, as God.
  9. Pages 155 – 181
    “No one can have invented Hell. It’s like saying someone invented air. It’s just always been there.”
    Backstory and frontstory, Fathers Wilfred and Bernard, London and Loney, Catholic and pagan, dumb innocence and wily awareness, local residents and their visitors, nearer and farther, icons and iconoclasts, sheep’s birthing or a young girl’s, primed and unprimed: each half of each equation finding the other lacking or inimical. The cross-currents increase, as Smith’s strictly devout Mummer welcomes in the Mummers across her threshold on Easter Day…
    All gradually sizing up for Hanny’s planned visit to the shrine the next day…?
  10. Pages 181 – 198
    “We all need a rock to cling to in a storm.”
    We all do indeed. But unsure a religion with miracles would work for me. We shall see if this book works its own miracle, a book as reliquary, naive narrative though it otherwise seems to be. The Mummers act a sort of Punch and Judy with real people inside the puppets as, unintentionally perhaps, they seem to enact the background to Isis State, Sullyman or Sillyman and Doctor Dog and Turkish knight. And later Hanny is prepared in the form of a Crusader, with makeshift relics in his tunic, primed, that is, for his long-trailered visit to the shrine… He expects something or someone Else? A Portrait of his Love or a Blessed Mary? And the priestly backstory via Smith’s account with its Mystery Plays now seems an overstory instead.
    “‘Hanny, I said, ‘We’re going to see God.'”
    • I have been wondering whether my very recent real-time review I conducted (here) of another novel about the nature of Heaven and Hell, ‘The Devil’s Detective’, that was about a whodunnit concerning a Good Angel and a Bad Angel, has anything to bear upon The Loney’s Good Priest and Bad Priest, if indeed they are Bad or Good discretely?
  11. Pages 198 – 220
    “You know, not all miracles are instantaneous. I’ve never seen one like that anyway. I think it takes a while for them to ripen.”
    …like this book that I begin to understand more and more, not back, front or over stories, but a palimpsest of stories, but if I told you exactly how or why, then that would be a massive spoiler. This book is ‘a tight kissing gate’, a vigil, a vision of a Purgatory or Limbo similar to that in ‘The Devil’s Detective’ book, a rosary of stiff paper pages in the version I hold, I guess. Not a Mummerset of a force-fed miracle, but an eking out of simple words reconciling unsimple meanings. Death like a waxwork, this section of the book says or implies. Or a taxidermist’s imagined version of an ancient hospice frozen in time?
  12. Pages 221 – 247
    “The only sound was that of fruit falling from the apple trees.”
    …thump, thump, thump, as in Elizabeth Bowen’s famous ghost story. We’re now in resolution territory that can often spoil any book by giving too much easy information and demystification. And the still unfolding denouement embraces Bowen – and embraces even Blyton, with ‘Famous Five’ like villains at that other house where a baby cries, but the novel is saved by what I have long called disarming Aickmanisms, those ‘objective correlatives’ that thankfully for the reader fail to solve whether the miracle, if miracle it is, is the Devil’s work or God’s. A necessary blurring of truth that is the truth of fiction. As are the later repercussions for the book’s characters, devout and the doubting alike. Just like Father Bernard’s memory of his time in Belfast, where God and the Devil got confused as did the roads, and Loney-like by-ways. Just like the paths of this book itself… “Tonto, the truth isn’t always set in stone. In fact it never is. There are just versions of it. And sometimes it’s prudent to be selective about the version you choose to give people.”
  13. Pages 248 – 278
    “He thought of himself as a shepherd in one of those pre-Rapahelite paintings, drowsing under the dapple of an ancient tree,…”
    We follow one of the two priests into the Wilderness (as prefigured, I vaguely recall, earlier in this book by Jesus in the Wilderness), this Wilderness based on the tidal uncertainties of the The Loney. The tides of ‘depravity’ that fight each with each to be more deprave? Or a test of faith that he fails? Each reader, perhaps will have his own answer depending on his own baggage. And then a coda, as, like the two Priests, the two brothers, one still Christian-nameless, swap over. A ‘childlike worldview’ of Heaven and Hell, but whose? Only and all fiction is childlike, not childish. Some more than others. And this book is at the perfect pitch of optimum, as well as pessimum, fiction as purgatory.
    This review is dedicated to the Mummers of our world.
    “Dog’ll eat whatever’s left.”

  14. “For miracles are never seen.” – from Matt Monro’s ‘Portrait of my Love’

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Black Static #45 / Interzone #257

Black Static #45 / Interzone #257

I recently received Black Static #45 and Interzone #257 as part of my subscription to TTA Press.
My previous reviews of TTA Press publications linked from HERE.
Stories by Steve Rasnic Tem, Laura Mauro, S.P.Miskowski, Danny Rhodes, Stephen Hargadon, Andrew Hook, Emily B. Cataneo, Cate Gardner, Alastair Reynolds, Tendai Huchu, Rich Larson, Aliya Whiteley, Fadzlishah Johanabas.
I intend to real-time review the stories from these two magazines in the comment stream below as and when I read them…

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15 responses to “Black Static #45 / Interzone #257

  1. Hungry Ghosts by Emily B. Cataneo
    “She adjusted her white sleep mask. For as long as I could remember, she had worn that mask,…”
    A little girl describing her Mother, as part of a cultural cycle of existence, the ghosts in their basement ever needing to be fed. The girl grows into her teens during the course of this story she tells us, yearning to break this cyclic sacrifice, to flee to the ocean, to escape the story itself, as it were, a story where she promises, at least twice, in writing, a gentility of mint tea and more. I sense that the readers, as well as the others she finds herself enticing, will end up visiting her by merely visiting the story itself even before reading her Meme of invitations…
    …or the rest of these stories?
  2. The Drop of Light and the Rise of Dark by Cate Gardner
    “They waited for the eclipse to end.”
    There is something astonishing and, by the nature of this brief story, terrifying that I should be destined, based on my initial seemingly capricious decision to experience the stories alphabetically by surname, now to read about an eclipse of the sun, on the very day when there occurred such a rare eclipse, one that was in the news headlines all day today. So that redoubled the terror of this second little girl story (here physically disabled) who imagines the eclipse never-ending as she tries to struggle downstairs to find her parents or her best friend. Or her own version of ‘basement’? The ending is a happy one, the ending is a devastating one. Take your pick. Like the previous one, you need to climb down with her to find out.
  3. The Visitors by Stephen Hargadon
    I could quote every sentence in this story as a particular gem or as a representative resonation of meaning for the whole story, so I won’t quote any. You reader only have yourself to answer for, the only reader you can trust, and, for you, this is a Hargadon ‘perfect storm’ of a Friday evening in a British city and its pub…a story to go with the two other black-nostalgia and overheard-conversation Hargadons that Black Static alone has invaluably provided for you and the rest of the world. To the many cosmopolitan authors and readers of Black Static, this Hargadon and the previous two other Hargadons must seem like a wonderfully imaginative Interzone scenario of alternate world or far future SF. But for you, it is life itself seen through the half-cynical, half-spiritual prism of pubtalk and half-cut human relationships, even the story’s last twist of the strongest-weakest love-hate relationship of them all, the coming together that is you. A genuine irresistible last one for the road , as you prepare for your own last road.
  4. duchampThe Frequency of Existence by Andrew Hook
    “Why are you photographing the sky?”
    As Hargadon is, for me, a sort of a drug of the past, this fine example of Hook is a hook into you the reader’s time-flow, a sort of Reiki preternaturality blended with Warhol objects parading like a Duchamp pissoir in paint, as if written for you, alone, to supplement the Hargadon pubtalk down-to-earth side of your character with this hook of a more experimental-artistic or avant garde side. This magazine’s earlier Cataneo’s ‘Meme’ as a cyclic portrayal, including that from developing film in darkroom basements to digital nostalgia-hooking scenes or selfies of photography, plus the contrast of your passing ‘bee in the bonnet’ side with the eternally pervasive you. Life flickering by, waiting for this Hook to freeze it at last.
  5. Now to the Hat as Meme…
    imageThe Worshipful Company of Milliners by Tendai Huchu
    “Kitsi noticed a lot of people milling about in fine hats…”
    A miraculously bitter-sweet, laudatory-satirical vision of fiction-writing involving a Millinery Factory in Harare, staffed amid rivalry by those who create invisible hats for fiction-writers, or at least invisible to those of us wearing them. Even if ‘fiction’ is defined similarly to ‘fraud’, the truth of these barely feline travelling-hatters (beautifully characterised) is incontrovertible to me despite being invisible to me, and, so, the writer who wrote about them possibly has the most beautifully appropriate hat that any writer has been gifted to wear. Tellingly, though, I sensed the italicised sections were written when he wasn’t wearing it…
  6. Songbird by Fadzlishah Johanabas
    “The exposed skin at the back of my neck is already itching and I have to clench my hands to stop myself from scratching.”
    There seems some connection between that itch here and the itch in the Huchu story that I failed to mention above. There it was the Meme of invisible Hats, here a more ‘Mad Scientist’ grafting of tubes … except I can tell it has been written by a sane knowledgeable one! Yet both stories do have the aura of what the Johanabas story calls “The memory surfaces like a half-remembered dream”, as perhaps all the stories so far read for this review also possess. The Johanabas one has the song, though, a song with the unique hook of emotion-trafficking like syphoning lust from sexual encounters with blade-runners and double-crossings and eventual flight of the songbird…. And much else I won’t tell you. You just need to sing it all in and then, hopefully, sing it all out.
  7. Brainwhales Are Stoners, Too by Rich Larson
    “Null of me. I know. I take my hair back and settle the cap on.”
    Youngsters, Theo Vandermeer and Beatrice, primed for life or university, canoodle and meddle, amid an accretively Finnegans Wake-like word-joining fugue, with a blend of Huchu’s Hats and Johanabas’ ‘Mad Scientist’ cables and Cataneo’s ‘memebranes’ (my underlining). Their meddling is a prankish cable-cap linking in with a huge laboratory-beached Brainwhale, who’s lost her son…. And I loved it. “…batting like a cat at a scarf that drapes down from one of the hooks in my unfinished ceiling.”
  8. The Grey Men by Laura Mauro
    “…a strange, abstract skyline emerging from the darkening mist.”
    Fitting my mood at the moment, this is an extremely haunting story, amid the earlier Hargadon-like British workaday commuting pubworld, of encroachment by mist and fog – and the populace suddenly seeing grey men (large as Larson’s whales or here ‘submersibles’ above the basement that is all of us?) hanging amid the fog from the sky; a magician’s trick or viral advertising, and hanging from what hooks upon what wires? Here, another mother’s lost son as in the whale story, another black nostalgia concerning the protagonist’s brother who died from cancer … But is the fog inside his own head as if wired into it, are we seeing it only because he is seeing it? The ending is transcendent, now not fitting my mood but remoulding it?
  9. The Second Floor by S.P. Miskowski
    “The one exception was a collaborative project funded by the city, a sprawling work combining musicians, acrobats and found text.”
    A found text like this, read out of order, on the second floor, above backstory’s ‘basement’, I guess. This, for me, is a high-literary work, as if by Elizabeth Taylor or Elizabeth Bowen, where Jane, once starveling theatrical student, now found good and gala-ised, returns to the bed and breakfast establishment where she originally lodged with those acting colleagues of her backstory, almost an enforced mission, by text or taxi, to dirty her hands again. Find the theatre again, where once she found her self, later lost, now due to be found again, like a friend’s text, a friend that is her own self as well as other passing strangers masquerading as friends upon the trodden boards. A theatre with a backdrop of scenery hung on hooks or those earlier grey men now on hands and knees? A found drama. A place that once had a backed-up toilet.
  10. A Murmuration by Alastair Reynolds
    “…the clouds sagging low over the trees and bushes of the marsh, their greyness relieved only by a bold supercilial swipe of pale yellow above the horizon.”
    I have been absorbed by this monologue as a rhetorical moebius between peer and peer, or, by its end, self with self? It fascinatingly describes a science of a Murmuration of birds, it’s Canetti ‘Crowds and Power’ as hive-mind, empirically installing rogue elements into otherwise cohesive swarming etc., comparing with Art as well as the Internet, involving the politics of scientists, their rivalries, ambitions, refereeing each other’s work. Huchu Hats or Brainwhale ‘memebranes’ upon the individuated Murmuration as masks or ‘digital hats’. The monologist’s own mind is something we can’t quite see beyond the Mauro ‘grey men’ hanging in their own sky like human-shaped murmurations, as our monologist plummets the empirical swarm toward the blades of a ‘grey tower’ turbine. He even explicitly compares this Murmuration concept to the particle work by the LHC at CERN, and this is the first time I’ve seen the book I created in 2009, CERN ZOO, come to such vivid life! Very satisfying.
  11. The Cleansing by Danny Rhodes
    “The younger girl pressed the button for the basement.”
    This clinging evocation of a cross-beat story depicts the entropy of a council estate being cleansed by what actually dirties it, like religions ethic-cleansing with spreading cancers of themselves into new (e)states – and just the mention of ‘Afghanistan’ in this text adds to such a phenomenon that the ageing residents of the estate flee. The story also resonates strongly with the Cataneo Gardner stories with the dark aura of young girls following toward ‘basements’. But, also, whether as a result of my capricious order of reading these stories or some deeper preternaturality, the immediately previous Murmuration ‘cloud’ and its various rogue implantings and almost cosmic entropy created by ‘man’ was a highly effective backdrop to this story’s so-called spreading state of ‘cleansing’…
  12. The Fishing Hut by Steve Rasnic Tem
    “We’re all onions, you know.”
    Another wonderfully dark and male- or oldster-ripe ‘onion song’ from Tem. The male on leave from his wife and doctor travels through the fog and almost like my own preternatural ending up near the end of this rite of reading with this fishing-hut of a story about a fishing-hut, Hut as a sort of inverted Huchuhat with the river actually running through it in a gap in the floor and inscrutable strangers in there fishing, too, like Mauro’s grey men,…fishing in and from a shape-shifting Murmuration of fish and shadowy water… hellishly riparian undercover as well as inspirationally earthing me to something wise and solid, during my current personal encounter with life’s sudden entropy.
  13. I know I was instrumental in first publishing it in 2012, so perhaps it is not surprising that I have an obsession with Aliya Whiteley’s story ‘Songs for Dead Children': probably for me one of the most devastating stories ever written, especially if you enjoy Mahler… But it also resonates with my rite of reading here, particularly with the Cataneo Gardner stories and others, Mauro, Rhodes and the defining Hats and phrenology and cabled Brainwhale and Songbird grafts and caps…

  14. Blossoms Falling Down by Aliya Whiteley
    Meanwhile, this wonderful Whiteley ‘coda’ entitled ‘Blossoms Falling Down’ resonates in a completely different way with the whole rite of reading I have just experienced, if diaphanously so, Proustianly so, with infusions of tea and Geisha orientality. With evocative tiny poetic Haikus as Hooks. Also, I mentioned earlier that Hargadon’s story might make some of the more cosmopolitan readers think it is an Interzone SF vision rather than a Friday night in Manchester and its pubs, but now we have what I visualise as a discrete world of decks, a vast spacecraft, with these various contrasting lands from Old Earth as these decked sections of it. A compartmented Murmuration or MEMEbrane. And instead of Steve Rasnic Tem’s Hut’s floor being missing over a black river, Whiteley transfigures this… “The fourth wall is missing; instead there is a projection of a cherry tree in blossom.” Whitelely has a very fine milliner.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Devil's Detective

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.

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…

    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 Edit

  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.

    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.
    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