I was thrilled to be offered the chance to read The Devil Aspect, the latest novel from Craig Russell, and Constable’s lead fiction title for Spring 2019, my interest immediately piqued by wonderfully dark blurb.
How do you find a killer when you’re surrounded by madness?
1935. As Europe prepares itself for a calamitous war, six homicidal lunatics – the so-called ‘Devil’s Six’ – are confined in a remote castle asylum in rural Czechoslovakia. Each patient has their own dark story to tell and Dr Viktor Kosárek, a young psychiatrist using revolutionary techniques, is tasked with unlocking their murderous secrets.
At the same time, a terrifying killer known as ‘Leather Apron’ is butchering victims across Prague. Successfully eluding capture, it would seem his depraved crimes are committed by the Devil himself. What links him with the insane inmates of the Castle of the Eagles?
Only the Devil knows. And it is up to Viktor to find out.
Inspired by the folklore of Eastern Europe and set in the shadow of Nazi darkness erupting just beyond the Czech border, this stylishly written, twisted, richly imagined novel is impossible to put down.
The Devil Aspect has two main elements to its plot. There is Viktor’s work in rural Czechoslovakia with the Devil’s Six, and the police investigation in Prague as a serial killer known only as ‘Leather Apron’ seeks out women, murdering and mutilating them for his own twisted pleasure.
Viktor is relatively new to the field of psychology, and is seeking to prove his theory that we each contain a little bit of evil in us (the titular Devil Aspect) even though most of us don’t act upon our darkest impulses. Being able to work with the notorious inmates Hrad Orlů is the perfect chance to explore, refine, and prove his theory. I absolutely loved how the sessions with each of the six inmates were portrayed, as the reader gets to “sit in” on the sessions that Viktor undertakes with each patient. I found it fascinating that these six characters, each of which is kept isolated from the others, have commonalities in their stories and the motivation behind their crimes. Is Viktor onto something with his theory, or is there another explanation for this?
The second plot element deals with the police investigation in Prague into the murders committed by ‘Leather Apron’, the moniker derived from the attire he wears to commit his atrocities. I loved this part of the story, as we follow Lukáš Smolák’s investigation into a killer who leaves very few clues behind him. And the crimes are beginning to get personal to Smolák, as Leather Apron begins to target witnesses and those helping with the investigation. Of course, the stories begin to overlap, as Smolák seeks the help of those at the asylum with his investigation, working, as they do, with individual’s much like his current target, bringing the two narratives together nicely. Russell portrays his serial killers and psychopaths extremely well, and each of the ‘Devil’s Six’ as well as the killer on the loose (who fits so well into that gang), are terrifying and brutal.
The Devil Aspect is set in 1935, and I thought that Russell pulled in contextual elements brilliantly, exploring the fears associated with shift in political viewpoints held by some, particularly the rise of antisemitism and the idea of a master race. This provides a terrifying backdrop to the novel, and to me highlighted exactly what life was like at the time. This is a brilliantly researched novel, and given the psychological nature of the novel, Russell also pulls in developments and theories of psychology, particularly the Jungian psychology that Viktor prescribes to. There are also folkloric influences which add a wonderful Gothic flavour to the novel. Having so many elements in a novel doesn’t always work, but I thought that Russell pulled it all together seamlessly creating one brilliantly dark and coherent novel.
It’s a cliché, but this really is a book that I couldn’t put down as I desperately wanted to know the identity of ‘Leather Apron’ as well as the outcome of Viktor’s work with the ‘Devil’s Six’. The plot is outstanding, and builds up to a fantastic conclusion that was completely unexpected. This is a wonderfully dark novel with Gothic undertones that I recommend to anyone looking for a novel that offers the reader something a little different to the norm.
The Devil Aspect will be published on 7 March by Constable, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group. A big thank you to Clara Diaz and the publisher for allowing me to read this title ahead of publication via Netgalley.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐