Vicious Circle: A Felix Castor Novel
by Mike Carey
Review by John Berlyne
Orbit Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 1841494143
Date: 05 October, 2006 List Price £7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Though Mike Carey has been a major player in the world of comics for quite a while (his credits include Lucifer, Hellblazer, Vampirella and X-Men), it was his brilliant debut novel, The Devil You Know that brought his work to a wider audience. I was hugely impressed with this book, which clearly showed that a first novel isn't always written by a novice storyteller. Though it only came out in April this year, I knew without question that it would be in my top five books of 2006.
Now I'm not so sure. Why? Because I just read the sequel and it's just as good, if not better!
Carey's hero, Felix Castor is an exorcist, but to him this is really just a job as opposed to some ritualistic cleansing of spirits. There's no religious clap-trap involved here, rather the kind of simple pragmatism and necessary guile we expect from our gumshoe heroes. Yet though Felix plays his role of detective perfectly (he's smart and funny, a tad reckless and damn shrewd), Carey safely steers him well clear of any kind of cliché. This approach works also for the landscape of these stories – these are London novels - intrinsically associated with that great city much as Dickens' works are, or if we're to avoid straying outside of the genre, Gaiman's Neverwhere or Powers' The Anubis Gates. The city is not just a backdrop or arbitrary setting – it is a character. Take London out of any of these books and the story would break down – just so with Carey's novels.
But Carey's London is a skewed place, the same as the city we know, but very, very different. In Carey's London, the supernatural has broken through the city’s fabric – spirits and ghosts are common, the dead rise with unpleasant regularity and were-creatures of all kinds work always seem to be in work as toughs and heavies. This is the just the way it is – and for Felix, the dead are a living, at least.
In Vicious Circle, Fix is hired to find a missing person...a missing 'dead' person, to be precise. Some grieving parents contact him and plead for his help in locating the missing ghost of their dead daughter. It's an unusual request, but they throw enough money at Felix for him to give it a go. But, of course, this innocuous, if strange, case leads our hero into a real warren of a plot. Carey pieces his story together with the neatness and lightness of touch of a man performing brain surgery. Other early plot strands – the violent fit thrown by his possessed and incarcerated friend Rafi and the case that his succubus demon friend Juliet asks him to review – take root at the start of the novel and are, by the end, shown to have underpinned the whole thing, and Carey lays these threads so delicately that you don’t even know he's doing it. It is this deft and precise construction that lifts this work, and the one before it, way above the competition. Carey makes no concessions for this being a genre book. He knows his readers are intelligent and discerning, and thus he gives them a real mystery to unravel, one that is involving and engaging and... well, down right exciting!
Vicious Circle is finely crafted, tautly plotted and tumbles onwards at a breathless and unstoppable pace. Carey puts his man Castor through the mill at every opportunity and sucks him into a satanic web of demon worship that make the works of Dennis Wheatly or James Herbert read like Beatrix Potter on a happy, hoppity-skippety sunny afternoon.
These novels have yet to be published in the US, but I urge you all, particularly our US readers to get hold of the UK editions via Amazon (see the link at the top of this page). The supernatural thriller market is currently dominated by American writers – Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, Laurel K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, Kelly Armstrong … the list goes on and on. But streets ahead of everybody, our own Mike Carey is outclassing the competition hands down.
Very highly recommended.