Saturday, April 13, 2019

Book Reviews: Drake

by Peter McLean
This book is the first in a series. It's similar to works by Simon Green, Jim Butcher, Mike Carey and other authors who imagine a grimy seedy noirish world in which magic works. Drake is an old school detective/adventure novel despite the magical overlay. It's told in first person, which often, though not always, makes you think that the narrator will probably survive, no matter how crazy things get. Although the protagonists in these types of stories tend to be men of questionable morals, McLean stretches that convention to the breaking point. YMMV with this. It helps that most of the people who are the protagonist's enemies are far worse than he is. It also helps that the hero is trying desperately to turn over a new leaf.

Don Drake is a London magician with a big talent for summoning things. By things I mostly mean demons. Hell is real, along with some other dimensions.  With the help of his Burned Man fetish, a wood statue which binds and channels an archdemon of the same name, Drake is able to conjure up all sorts of things. Unfortunately, Drake has proven inept at monetizing this skill. He's also shown a lack of morals. Drake mostly uses this power to send demons to frighten, steal from or even kill people for a fee. Drake manages to sleep at night and justify this to himself by always making sure that the people these demons hurt are always bad people who are guaranteed to go to Hell anyway. 

Drake never has any money because he's a gambler. Tricked into a game with the human-appearing demon Wormwood, Drake loses more than he can pay. Although Wormwood is a demon he operates more like a Mafia boss.  Wormwood serves Mammon. Literally. Greed is Wormwood's highest principle. As far as Wormwood is concerned Drake is in his debt for as long as Wormwood says so. Wormwood has some jobs for Drake to do, jobs which all involve eliminating Wormwood's human competition-magical or gangsters. After some initial reluctance, which Wormwood promptly has beaten out of Drake, Drake gets with the program.  

Killing for Wormwood causes Drake to damage his relationship with his on-again, mostly off-again girlfriend Deb, who supplies Drake with materials for his spells. Deb is moral and has about had it with Drake. Drake has lied to her about stopping his hitman activities. But things really go wrong when Drake, a lapsed Catholic, doesn't check the house before he sends some really nasty demons after two of Wormwood's targets. The demons are delighted to kill the marks. They are even happier to kill the target's innocent five-year-old grandson who happened to be visiting. Drake can't stop them.

Utterly disgusted with himself and with his life, Drake visits Wormwood to tell him that he's out for good. Wormwood couldn't care less about the death of a child. He's a demon after all. Wormwood makes it clear that Drake still owes him. Or to put it another way Wormwood still owns Drake. Forced to continue working for Wormwood, Drake finds himself the object of interest by four very different women. Ally and her two sisters Meg and Tess were known by different names by the ancient Greeks. They don't seem to have Drake's best interests at heart. Relentless doesn't even begin to describe them. A different woman named Trixie appears at opportune times to rescue Drake. And it's apparent that she's not of this world.  There are different games within games occurring. In the meantime the Burned Man has some ideas about how to save Drake.  All Drake has to do are some very simple things. Easy really. But of course demons always lie don't they? Drake knows that the Burned Man can't be trusted:
"It growled at me. It growled and the sound filled the room like there was a whole herd of rabid grizzly bears in there with me. It had never done that before. Now I'm sorry. I know it's only nine inches tall and chained up as well but that growl frightened the f****** life out of me. It was the fastest way to remind me that the Burned Man was only the fetish of the demon it represented. Right then I could feel the full malice of the real thing..."
This was a fast moving fun book at just over 300 pages. I thought the ending was a little too neat but I was interested enough to want to read more in this series. This was a comfort read. It's something you can finish in less than a week. I liked the London setting. Drake is not a good man, but he's trying to become better. But you know what they say about hell and good intentions.
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