What’s it all about?:
A terrifying novel set in Czechoslovakia in 1935, in which a brilliant young psychiatrist takes his new post at an asylum for the criminally insane that houses only six inmates–the country’s most depraved murderers–while, in Prague, a detective struggles to understand a brutal serial killer who has spread fear through the city, and who may have ties to the asylum
Prague, 1935: Viktor Kosárek, a psychiatrist newly trained by Carl Jung, arrives at the infamous Hrad Orlu Asylum for the Criminally Insane. The state-of-the-art facility is located in a medieval mountaintop castle outside of Prague, though the site is infamous for concealing dark secrets going back many generations. The asylum houses the country’s six most treacherous killers–known to the staff as The Woodcutter, The Clown, The Glass Collector, The Vegetarian, The Sciomancer, and The Demon–and Viktor hopes to use a new medical technique to prove that these patients share a common archetype of evil, a phenomenon known as The Devil Aspect. As he begins to learn the stunning secrets of these patients, five men and one woman, Viktor must face the disturbing possibility that these six may share another dark truth.
Meanwhile, in Prague, fear grips the city as a phantom serial killer emerges in the dark alleys. Police investigator Lukas Smolak, desperate to locate the culprit (dubbed Leather Apron in the newspapers), realizes that the killer is imitating the most notorious serial killer from a century earlier–London’s Jack the Ripper. Smolak turns to the doctors at Hrad Orlu for their expertise with the psychotic criminal mind, though he worries that Leather Apron might have some connection to the six inmates in the asylum.
Steeped in the folklore of Eastern Europe, and set in the shadow of Nazi darkness erupting just beyond the Czech border, this stylishly written, tightly coiled, richly imagined novel is propulsively entertaining, and impossible to put down.
What did I think?:
First of all, a huge thank you to Clara Diaz and Constable, an imprint of Little Brown Publishers for getting in touch via email and providing me with a complimentary digital copy of The Devil Aspect via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. After reading that incredible synopsis, I couldn’t help but be excited to read this novel, the first of Craig Russell’s work that I’ve come across and now I’ve discovered him, definitely won’t be the last. This fascinating and occasionally unsettling work of fiction is part historical, part crime and mystery, part thriller with a drop of horror thrown into this heady mixture of genres to make it a story that I still find myself thinking about weeks after finishing it.
Craig Russell, author of The Devil Aspect.
You don’t need to know anything extra about this novel save what is in the synopsis above. In fact, if you’ve already skipped the synopsis and headed straight to my thoughts, I might even boldly suggest that you go into this novel knowing as little as possible. This isn’t because the synopsis gives away spoilers but because I read the synopsis a long while before I actually physically started the book and had forgotten much of what the novel encompassed. This meant that the juicy little surprises revealed throughout the narrative came as a welcome shock compared to if I had been overly familiar prior to starting my journey into Russell’s delectable writing. All you really need to know is that it’s the story of a psychiatrist in the 1930’s who begins work at a Prague asylum harbouring incredibly dangerous prisoners who will never be released back into the general public. He is investigating new medicinal and hypnotic methods into unravelling the evil deeds that they have done with the hope that he can make them better people as a result.
Prague, 1935 – the setting for The Devil Aspect.
That’s The Devil Aspect in a nutshell. However, you can’t really put this book into a nice little box and wrap a bow around it. It’s about so much more than that. It explores the unpredictability of madness, the power of the human brain, the danger of psychopaths, the difference between evil and good and how folklore and superstition can be used against already fragile and vulnerable individuals to take advantage. It’s definitely a thought-provoking read that made me consider how frightening the human mind can be, especially as we don’t know half of what it’s capable of OR how the terrifying way in which our memory can fail/change, sometimes without our conscious knowledge that it has occurred.
I’m not usually too bothered about graphic events in a work of fiction but holy hell, some parts of this really were brutal – Russell definitely doesn’t shy away from detail. I’m sure all I need to mention is Jack The Ripper for you the reader, to understand what I’m alluding to? As an aside, I would have been interested to see the fascist angle in this book to be explored in more depth however I completely understand why the author didn’t do this. He has SO many irons in the fire with what he chooses to write about and perhaps another thread to the story would have been slightly too much to deal with. I was a perfectly willing and happy participant to the surprises and shocks I received throughout The Devil Aspect and will absolutely be seeking out more of the author’s work.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):