I liked The Devil Aspect. The problem is, I thought I was going to love it.
The description hit so many of my sweet spots: a foreboding castle-turned-insane-asylum high in the Czechoslovakian mountains, housing six killers so insane they’ve been dubbed “The Devil’s Six;” a town suffering through the rampages of a serial killer known as Leather Apron; and a young psychiatrist willing to push his patients to the brink with his controversial treatment techniques. It all had a bit of a Hammer Horror vibe to it, and I was primed from page one.
It’s not that the novel, the American debut of award-winning Scottish author Craig Russell, doesn’t fulfill that promise. This is a deeply atmospheric book, painted in bright red blood and deep black shadows. There are some incredibly tense sequences involving Viktor Kosárek’s one-on-one therapy sessions with members of The Devil’s Six. When Leather Apron (so named to invoke Jack the Ripper, although the name — and the killer’s methods — say Leatherface to me) strikes, Russell doesn’t hold back on detailing his brutality. The police procedural portions of the novel, in which we follow a police investigator on the hunt for Leather Apron, hit all the right notes.
In other words, the ingredients are all there. For me, the issue was pacing. This novel tops 400 pages, and I feel like it would have benefited from a little trimming and tightening. It takes a long time for all of the separate elements to dovetail in the way most experienced readers know they will. As a result, a major plot twist at the end feels like something the author tacked on instead of something the story earned.
It’s hard for me to pin down exactly what caused it to drag. Whenever I picked up the book, I would get lost in it, gobbling up four or five chapters at a time. But when I put it down, I didn’t feel like I’d made a lot of progress in the page count or in the plot.
With that reservation in mind, I would still recommend The Devil Aspect to lovers of atmospheric horror. Russell mixes influences ranging from the aforementioned Hammer style of brooding horror to films like Silence of the Lambs and Identity. Columbia Pictures has snapped up the film rights, and I’m excited to see what they do with it; in the right hands, and with the right script, this could make a great movie. In book form, it’s a very good story that I think many of you will enjoy.