Audiobook Review: The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Historical Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Random House Audio (March 5, 2019)
Length: 15 hrs and 23 mins
Author Information: Website
Narrator: Julian Rhind-Tutt
It’s been a while since I read something like The Devil Aspect, a historical suspense-thriller displaying many characteristics of Gothic horror. In some ways it felt like indulging in a treat that I haven’t had in a long time, because I ate this one right up.
It is 1935, and the story opens with our protagonist Viktor Kosárek arriving at the infamous Hrad Orlu Asylum in Prague, where he is about to begin his new post as its newest psychiatrist. The secluded facility, converted from a medieval castle on top of a mountain, only houses six inmates, but they are considered some the most dangerous and incurably insane killers the world has ever known. The asylum staff call them The Vegetarian, The Clown, The Woodcutter, The Sciomancer, The Glass Collector and The Demon, but together they are known as the Devil’s Six, named so because of the unthinkably vicious and abominable ways they’ve murdered their victims. Intrigued by this common attribute that the six inmates have, Viktor hopes to experiment with a new technique he has developed which would prove the presence of a “Devil Aspect” in their psyches, a phenomenon which drives people to commit evil.
Meanwhile, the rest of the country is gripped in fear and uncertainty as dark news looms just across the border with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Within the capital, the city’s populace has also been rocked by a series of disturbing murders similar to those committed half a century ago in Britain by a serial killer named Jack the Ripper. Now it appears Prague has its own Ripper, whom the police and the papers have dubbed Leather Apron, and lead detective Lukas Smolak has vowed to identify and apprehend him as quickly as possible. Working under such pressures, it would be tempting to build a case around their only suspect, a gypsy they captured at the scene of the last murder, except the raving young man seems terrified, insisting upon his innocence while convinced that the devil will come for him next.
The Devil Aspect was exactly what I wanted—not exactly fast-paced but oh so deliciously atmospheric, as well as creepy and gory but in a subtle way that avoids throwing the horror directly in your face. I loved how the two POVs—Viktor’s and Smolak’s—wove in and out of each other, creating a complex narrative rich with clues, false trails and surprises. And yes, rest assured that readers will get to meet each of the Devil’s Six and discover why they have been locked up in the Hrad Orlu Asylum; I would have been disappointed if the publisher had dangled such an irresistible tidbit in the blurb without following through.
But while the two main characters were a fascinating study, the real winner was the setting, both in the location and the historical period. Horror is perhaps one of the few genres in which I am okay with a little less characterization in favor of more world-building and tone-setting, because so much of my enjoyment rests on the author creating the perfect mood. Craig Russell did an amazing job, for the atmosphere was practically palpable as a pall of gloom hangs over Smolak’s investigation into Leather Apron in Prague, and Viktor is wrapped up in his own darkness atop his isolated mountaintop milieu as he carries out his experiments on the Devil’s Six. This has always been the type of psychological horror I prefer, the creeping dread versus the more unsubtle forms of the genre, e.g. gushing blood and gore with heavy emphasis on graphic and gruesome violence. In this sense, The Devil Aspect was right up my alley. Although the book contains its fair share of grisly scenes and descriptions, I didn’t think any of these were overdone.
In terms of criticisms, I did feel the story had a tendency to stray off-course every now and then, but because we were pursuing so many threads, it was difficult to tell whether some of these instances were attempts at red herrings. It did throw off the pacing some, in that I felt my attention drifting during many of these sections, but thankfully the author was always careful to steer things back on track. I thought the ending was a bit predictable too, but mostly because I always come into these kinds of books expecting a twist, and I happened to peg the outcome accurately. That said, my enjoyment was in no way diminished.
Overall, this novel was a delightful joy to read, which might seem strange to say of a dark and somber tale of psychological horror. But truly, it had everything that I wanted. Ambitious and provocative, The Devil Aspect was impressive in its execution and the way it integrated all its parts. Highly recommended.
Audiobook Comments: Narrator Julian Rhind-Tutt had a great voice for this story, making a good book even better. The only thing I can think of that would have improved the experience was a second narrator to bring more distinction between the two main POVs, but even with a single reader this was an excellent listen.