Devious! Absolutely devious!
The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Published: 5th March, 2019 (expected)
In 1935, Viktor Kosarek, 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.
Reading The Devil Aspect was like reading two books at the same time. One story line followed a serial killer murdering women in Prague in a brutal fashion, the other was set in a proper creepy castle, a completely pointless fortress in the middle of nowhere, that seems to have been built not to keep something out, but to make sure something stays in, housing six terrible criminals, all suffering from some type of mental illness where a young psychiatrist arrives to perform some questionable experiments on these inmates. Need I say more?
This book was brilliant. Even though I’m not a big fan of historical fiction (or so I thought), I fell head over heels with this one.
The murders in Prague bore a strong resemblance to Jack the Ripper’s work, but our devilish Leather Apron took things even further. The butchered women are left in such condition that a few seasoned police officers had to be sent outside to not contaminate the crime scene as they were puking left, right and center. We are not spared from any of the gory details either.
Meanwhile, in Hrad Orlu, Doctor Kosarek set out to conduct his experiments. If being locked up with a bunch of psychotic murderers is not unnerving enough, the repeated mentions of Slavic folktale creatures coming to life would surely do the trick for you. The whole village seemed to be on edge, talking about curses, demons and other satanic creatures on the loose. Charming place, isn’t it?
The whole business with the Devil, Veles, the part bear – part man lord or the Underworld, strange runes carved into the pillars of the village chapel gave the whole story an undeniable paranormal feel and I found myself battling with ideas, trying to convince myself, that surely there must be a scientific explanation for it all. Forever the skeptic. But was I right?
As Detective Smolak, the Handsome races against time to prevent more women falling prey to the increasingly violent killer, and Doctor Kosarek and his colleagues make a shocking discovery, the two story lines converge. Can Kosarek help figure out the mind of a murderer who appears to be beyond human?
Now, you might wonder what all this have to do with Nazis. To be fair, not much. While there are some German doctors working in the institute, and Judita, with whom Victor found an instant connection is Jewish, their origins don’t have too much bearing on the mystery itself. Considering the location and the time period however, one can’t write a historical fiction and pretend the Nazis didn’t exist.
A chilling, Gothic novel, The Devil Aspect will appeal to both fans of historical whodunits and readers who enjoy horror stories with a hint of folklore and psychology.
I received a copy from Little, Brown Book Group, but the opinions are my own.