Saturday, October 10, 2015

Book Reviews: Dead Men's Boots

Dead Men's Boots
by Mike Carey
I like authors who work magic and the supernatural into the everyday mundane affairs of modern humans. Jim Butcher, Nicholas Kaufman and Neil Gaiman are some of the better writers who can do this. Mike Carey also deserves notice as part of that crew. Carey has created a timeline in our world where a great many of the things that scare people are real. Ghosts, zombies, were-creatures, demons, devils, the whole nine yards. 

Carey's trick is that most people aren't all that disturbed by this, at least after a few years of hysteria. So this series (written in first person) is really more of a detective/mystery series than something which requires a tremendous suspension of disbelief. Carey's sardonic smart mouth world weary hero is straight out of classic noir. He's not particularly wealthy, good looking or fast with his fists. But Felix Castor is one of the UK's best exorcists. He's one of those rare people who are able to see ghosts and what's more bind them or dispel them. 

Every exorcist does the binding and dispelling in different ways. Some wordy people like to use long incantations. Some more physical people may use interpretive dance. Felix's particular interface with the supernatural revolves around music. He's able to get a fix on a supernatural being through music: rhythm, harmony and melody. Felix likes to use a whistle to play the song to dispel a ghost but in a pinch almost any instrument or surface will do. He can even sing the melody himself. Like most detectives Felix has a strained relationship with the police. 

One senior detective uses Felix on some important cases but another detective has made it widely known that she would be very happy to use fair means or foul to put Felix in jail. Her dislike stems from a misunderstanding about a murder case which wasn't what it seemed. Even though Felix was innocent Detective Basquiat is not a woman who likes smart-alecks or lets go of grudges easily. And she's surprisingly handy with her fists. Felix can also count on, well at least as long as his interests don't conflict with theirs, occasional assistance from his friends associates Nicky and Juliet. 

Nicky is a hacker's hacker who pretty much believes every conspiracy theory and has proof of a lot of them. If you looked up paranoia in the dictionary there would be a picture of Nicky. And since Nicky became a zombie he's only become more suspicious and watchful. 

For obvious reasons, zombies usually aren't too friendly with exorcists or the living (as zombies try to avoid all viruses, bacteria and anything else biological because exposure increases the rate at which their bodies rot). Nicky has so far made an exception in Felix's case but that could easily change. Juliet (that's a translation of her real name) is a blindingly beautiful woman who can have any man or woman she wants. She's also a 17,000 yr old demon from hell. 

Juliet is a succubus who feeds on male lust, bodies and souls. Having sex with her is the most wonderful thing and the last thing any man will ever do. She was originally summoned to kill Felix. After he managed to temporarily defeat her a few times, in desperation Castor cut the chain which bound her to the summoner. As demons always hate the person who enslaved them more than their target, this act somewhat endeared Juliet to Felix. She agreed not to kill and eat him (or other men) and he agreed to train her to be an exorcist. This deal has so far held. In this book Juliet has her own exorcism business. And she has even found something approaching love with another woman. 

All the same, Juliet is not human and has little patience for or understanding of most human emotions or practices outside of lust. And she takes everything very literally. This is both a cause of amusement and fear to those around her. Dead Men's Boots has three seemingly disparate storylines. 

But you know in detective novels nothing is every truly independent is it. Felix ignored calls for assistance from a fellow exorcist, John Gittings, partly because he never liked the man, partly because he was busy and partly because he used to have a thing for Carla, John's wife. 

But shortly afterwards John killed himself. And now, a strange lawyer has showed up to claim the body over Carla's outraged objections. Carla asks Felix for help. He can't say no this time, particularly as John's ghost is haunting Carla's home. Felix also gets hired to consult on a murder case in which all the evidence points to an American serial killer who's been dead for years. Felix must stop a possibly innocent man from going away for life. Felix is fighting to keep his friend Rafi (who's possessed by the devil Asmodeus) from being taken away for scientific experimentation. And oh yes, there's the little matter of someone trying to kill Felix. I liked this book.

Felix is burning the candle at both ends throughout. The more he peels away the mystery the deeper the foulness seems to go. There's a lot here in this book about the hurt that people do to each other. Juliet in particular gets fleshed out as a character. You may even sympathize with Juliet on occasion as she struggles to understand a particular human custom or practice. Carey provides a lot of back story about ghosts and why they might attempt to hang on to the physical world. The only weakness is that Juliet might be used a bit too much as the cavalry coming to the rescue. 

The story addressed this somewhat by bringing in other characters from below who are not at all scared by Juliet. This book was pretty good though it occasionally beat you over the head about some social issues. If you are a fan of detective stories this is worth having in your library. It is third in the series but stands alone. You can definitely read this without having read the prior two books. Carey brings you up to speed very quickly.
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