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Hunter's Moon (Gollancz S.F.) by David Devereux
Review by Juliet McKenna
Gollancz Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780575079854
Date: 21 June 2007 List Price £9.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /

One can only hope that David Deveraux's novel Hunter's Moon is even half as interesting as its author. Deveraux is a real life exorcist - his web site elaborates...

"David Devereux is thirty-four years old and widely considered to be one of the leading practitioners of the arts of combat magic, counter-cursing and exorcism in the United Kingdom and Europe. As Senior Field Officer for the paranormal protection & consulting agency Athanor he deals with dozens of enquiries from distressed and frightened people across the world every month, and does his work quietly and discreetly in locations ranging from suburban homes, country pubs and provincial offices to the boardrooms of multinationals and the mansions of household names."

Juliet McKenna takes a look at Deveraux's debut novel elsewhere in this issue.

Jack's a musician by choice, a magician by profession and a bastard by disposition, according to the cover copy of this supernatural thriller. With two dead bodies on his account before the middle of the second page, is he also a murderer or something more? As it turns out, he's pretty much the supernatural equivalent of the SAS, going into caves to stop the bad guys raising demons by whatever means necessary, as opposed to going into embassies to rescue hostages.

With this particular gribbly in a cave comprehensively dealt with, he's off on his next case. A coven of witches are working with a group of terrorists intent on an assassination. Jack's backing up the female operative infiltrating the coven, doing the wet-work necessary to create a vacancy in the inner circle. Only when things start to go wrong, Jack has to start thinking creatively to make sure the job gets done. Given the witches are deeply involved in sex-magic, keeping his mind on the job can prove challenging.

The story's entirely straight forward with no sub-plot and scant detail in the depiction of secondary characters. The rapid pace and linear narrative offers few twists and the result is a slim volume of under two hundred pages. And it's an entertaining read. There's sufficient detail to paint a convincing picture while the wry flavour of Jack's narrative ensures his exploits will raise a chuckle as well as a shudder. His voice is also satisfactorily ex-military. Wannabees who'd run wailing from the sight of actual bloodshed might fetishize the Sykes-Fairbairn commando knife but in my experience it's those who've actually served in uniform who routinely ask for NATO Standard tea and preface explanations with 'and then the fuck-up fairy came to play.'

There's a strong flavour of special-forces memoir, more than a seasoning of James Bondery and the world view will be familiar to fans of Tom Clancy. Readers who've read the likes of Bravo Two Zero will get a lot more out of this than those who haven't, given the military slang used without over much explanation. A reasonable grounding in conspiracy theory will also go a long way towards colouring in the passing allusions to Jack's organisation's previous successes and failures. Some acquaintance, theoretical or otherwise, with bondage, dominance and sadomasochism will certainly give a more fully developed understanding of the witches' modus operandi.

It's not a particularly subtle book, mind you. What's on the page doesn't go much below the surface. In some ways that's a relief, since it means neither torture nor sex get excessively graphic. But there's no great exploration of motivation. No debate over whether or not the ends really do justify Jack's means. Perhaps the writer is relying on the reader to examine their own responses to the uncompromising bloodshed necessary to save us all from supernatural chaos. To relate this fictional scenario to, say, the erosion of judicial protection for those caught up in the war on terror? Perhaps - but I can't help thinking the more uncritical readers who lap up militaristic fiction won't bother.

This may be a function of the first person narrative. Jack certainly wouldn't be as convincing a soldier as he is if he did entertain any doubts or inner debate. With his machismo turned all the way up to eleven, I'll accept the hints of misogyny in his dealings with women as part of that characterisation. Beyond that, I wouldn't have minded seeing a few women characters who weren't either villainous, victims or quite so easily outsmarted by Jack. But I'm wary of claiming any feminist foul where I don't think one is intended. As I say, Hunter's Moon is a very direct, linear narrative without much hinterland. Supernatural fiction is definitely richer for the male protagonists appearing nowadays. As a footsoldier firmly inside the Establishment, Jack offers an entertaining and effective contrast to loners like Felix Castor, Harry Dresden and Joe Pitt. But beyond that contrast, I don't see this book bringing anything particularly new to the genre. And compared to those other heroes' trials and tribulations, I was never in much doubt as to the eventual outcome. Personally I'll take rather more depth and suspense in my thrillers, thanks. Still, for fun on a disengage-brain-and-pass-the-popcorn level, this'll do what it says on the tin.

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