Dead Men's Boots: A Felix Castor Novel (Felix Castor Novel 3)
by Mike Carey
Review by John Berlyne
Orbit Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781841494159
Date: 06 September 2007 List Price £7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
Mike Carey climbs even higher on my favourite authors list with this, his third Felix Castor novel.
Dead Men's Boots is another engrossing and supremely well plotted supernatural thriller and further cements Carey's place as one of the best writers around of this kind of story. A paperback original released by Orbit, be sure to check out my review else in this issue. Definitely my top pick of this month's releases.
In the fiercely contested area of the genre fiction market that is labelled "Supernatural Thriller", Mike Carey's Felix Castor novels sit imperiously in the clouds at the top of the pile and look down on the competition. Carey's books are by far the best examples I have come across of this increasingly popular niche and I particularly like that in this sub-genre so dominated by American writers largely producing Buffy clones or variations on the theme, Carey has come up with a twist that is both original and uniquely British.
I'm not flag waving here – it could simply be that the Castor books resonate with me because I have more in common with them culturally and geographically than I do with, say, a Kelly Armstrong protagonist. But here is also the very appealing fact that Carey's books are quite a bit grimmer than the usual fare of this type. Leading man Castor is cynic of epic proportions – he makes Sam Spade appear more like Wilkins Micawber, and then there is the violence - not the "Pow" and "Thwack" variety seen in other books, but instead the kind of violence that intrudes beneath the surface, that imperils and sullies the soul as much as the flesh.
Dead Men's Boots is the third Felix Castor novel, related to, but not following directly on from, The Devil You Know and Vicious Circle . Those previous novels introduced us to protagonist Castor, an exorcist living and working hand-to-mouth in a London where the dead have risen. In the new novel Carey fills in a little more detail on the whys and wherefore behind this cataclysm, but in truth the causes are far less important than the effects. This is the rough diamond, hard man London depicted in The Long, Good, Friday rather than the insipid, cappuccino swilling "Hooray Henry" cosmopolitan city of Notting Hill. Carey's capital is a dark city, a city hiding shameful secrets and dangerous conspiracies, of criminal gangs and restless spirits, of paranoid zombies and hungry demons. There is a bleak realism to Carey's London, a knowing, tell-it-how-it-is attitude in the writing that anyone who was ever mugged in Kilburn or ever had to struggle onto a packed tube during a winter rush hour will recognize only too well and it is this atmosphere of ever-present danger and daily drudgery that binds so successfully with the grim supernatural aspects Carey lays over the city.
Dead Men's Boots opens with a funeral – which pretty much sets the tone! A fellow exorcist is being laid to rest, and Castor is present to see him off. It doesn't help that the colleague had repeatedly called Felix before his death, and that Felix had ignored those calls. It doesn't help either that the death was down to suicide or that Felix had a thing with the dead man's wife once upon a time, and it doesn't help that the funeral is interrupted by a lawyer waving a cease and desist order around. It turns out that the dead exorcist had changed his will just before he blew his brains out, demanding to be cremated rather than buried. And it certainly doesn't help that the dead exorcist's ghost is on the rampage and won't settle now that it has been separated from its body.
Carey develops a second plot strand early on – in London's King's Cross, a man is brutally battered to death in the seedy surroundings of a flea pit hotel. His murderer, a labourer with whom the dead man had been "spending the afternoon" is on remand awaiting trial. The trouble is, the murder weapon is missing and the modus operandi is undeniably that of a notorious female American serial killer who went to the chair some decades previously. Such a scenario might well be baffling in any other story, but in Carey's London, it's the kind of challenge that Felix Castor and anyone reading about him can't possibly ignore.
Before long it is clear that these two plot strands are closely related and Carey embellishes the story bringing further elements into play and ratcheting up both the tension and the pace in the process. Characters from the previous novels also play their part – notably Juliet, the femme fatale succubus demon that no man can take his eyes off and Nicky, the paranoid, zombie conspiracy theorist who can find a needle in a haystack. Less present in this novel is Castor's possessed and incarcerated friend, Rafi, along with resident demon Asmodeus, but it is clear that he will have big, big part to play in further adventures.
What Carey develops in Dead Men's Boots is yet another extraordinarily gripping supernatural mystery – a "whatdunit" easily as much as a "whodunit". Mike Carey brilliantly gathers up his set-pieces, tying them together into a seamless package that is essentially a crime-writing master-class as much as a dark fantasy novel. At no time in Dead Man's Boots dare the reader second guess the play. The story is eked out, drip-fed into our veins, producing a craving for more and more of it as each page is turned. These Castor books are as fiendishly addictive as nicotine and are made all the more satisfying by Castor's deadpan, ironic fatalism - an amazingly energising factor in Carey's narrative. This protagonist's sardonic nature acts as a buffer to the grimness of events and, given the life he leads, it is easy to see how this armour plate developed around him. The net result is another superb, highly involving novel from Mike Carey.
Very highly recommended.