cover image The Devil’s Detective

The Devil’s Detective

Simon Kurt Unsworth. Doubleday, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-385-53934-0

Unsworth’s care in constructing an imaginary world enables him to make the most of his debut’s challenging concept: a hard-boiled detective novel set in Hell itself. Thomas Fool is one of Hell’s Information Men, but he lacks the resources or time to investigate, let alone solve, most of the crimes he’s alerted to. Like all other human residents of the underworld, Fool is incapable of atoning for the sins that brought him there, as he’s been robbed of the memories of what they were. And hope for a reprieve is limited, because those who are elevated to Heaven are selected according to rules that are only understood by the bureaucracies of Heaven and Hell. Fool’s routine gets a jolt from the coincidence of two unusual events: he’s asked to serve as escort for a heavenly delegation headed by the angel Adam, and then he encounters a murder victim whose soul was removed by the killer. Unsworth offers intriguing variations on traditional themes and some memorably hair-raising prose (“The house was blind but not mute, and it screamed at them”). (Mar.)