I picked this book up on a whim, and after a couple of false starts I was able to devote some time to this dense police procedural set in Hell. I’m glad I persevered with it.
Hell, as depicted here, is definitely other people. The days of burning brimstone are long gone, and instead a crushing and labyrinthine Bureaucracy exists. The Damned don’t remember why they are here, only that they deserve the brutality of demons and crushing banality and squalor around them.
Our protagonist, Thomas Fool, is one of Hell’s Information Men, tasked with solving or at least reporting on crimes committed against humans. There’s usually no resolutions or punishments and it’s another thankless and unending task that is as much a punishment as anyone else’s.
Brutalised bodies start cropping up, an angelic delegation is in town on an inspection and to administer a lottery of souls to be released from Hell, and Thomas knows that all eyes are on him.
The violence is grisly and the misery unrelenting, and yet like Dante’s Inferno there are new visions and even a beauty in the unfolding structure. I feared I was in for an extended short story by someone who had read too much Neil Gaiman, but I was relieved that instead there was an individual voice and inventiveness at play. This is a story that puts it’s own stamp on the tone and narrative.
There’s some intriguing world building here, and I was pleased that it wasn’t spoon-fed to me, leaving room for ambiguity and inquisitiveness to match that of the weary narrator and protagonist. Not every plot twist was a complete surprise, but by the same token nothing felt entirely pulled from a hat, staying in keeping with the established rules of the setting.
What was a pleasant (for lack of a better word) turn of events were the changes to the status quo along the way that served to underline the treacherous nature of Hell. I’m torn between wanting more books in this setting and being happy with it as a standalone tale.
Over all, an engaging read once I got to grips with it, with unrelenting misery that serves a purpose. Four out of five pitchforks.