Welcome to Shelf Care, where I review three books related by a theme. These aren’t necessarily the latest releases, but are hopefully books you can’t believe you missed.
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
-Verbal Kint, The Usual Suspects
This column’s theme: Fallen Angels.
Abraham Lincoln once suggested that we should listen to the better angels of our nature, which although it is probably the better course of action, it isn’t exactly fun, is it? This month we’re taking a more lighthearted look at the other side of that. Specifically two novels involving the devil, and one involving a demon gone native.
So if you like:
The funny parts of The End Of Days
You might like Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
When the birth of the Antichrist sets the stage for a war Heaven and Hell have been waiting millennia for, demon and an angel who have “gone native” work together to avert the impending apocalypse, as the destruction of the earth would ruin their comfortable situation.
“I tied up every portable telephone system in Central London for forty-five minutes at lunchtime,” he said.
There was silence, except for the distant swishing of cars.
“Yes?” said Hastur. “And then what?”
“Look, it wasn’t easy,” said Crowley.
“That’s all?” said Ligur.
“And exactly what has that done to secure souls for our master?” said Hastur.
Crowley pulled himself together.
What could he tell them? That twenty thousand people got bloody furious? That you could hear the arteries clanging shut all across the city? And that then they went back and took it out on their secretaries or traffic wardens or whatever, and they took it out on other people? In all kinds of vindictive little ways which, and here was the good bit, they thought up themselves for the rest of the day. The pass-along effects were incalculable. Thousands and thousands of souls all got a faint patina of tarnish, and you hardly had to lift a finger.
But you couldn’t tell that to demons like Hastur and Ligur. Fourteenth-century minds, the lot of them. Spending years picking away at one soul. Admittedly it was craftsmanship, but you had to think differently these days. Not big, but wide. With five billion people in the world you couldn’t pick the buggers off one by one any more; you had to spread your effort. But demons like Ligur and Hastur wouldn’t understand. They’d never have thought up Welsh-language television, for example. Or value added tax. Or Manchester.
He’d been particularly pleased with Manchester.
There’s not much to be said about this book that hasn’t been already. There are two fantastic authors with wicked senses of humor, an incredibly well done miniseries, and loads of positive reviews. Throughout the book you’ve got satirical commentary on human behavior, great characters and a well thought out plot. The angel and demon have a “buddy cop” relationship that, while played for laughs, also comes across as extremely believable. This is worth a read if you like any of the aforementioned authors, and a must read if you like the authors that wrote it.
Or if you like:
Terry Pratchett with slightly more ‘adult’ themes
And the odd profound commentary on human behavior
You might like Up Jumps the Devil, by Michael Poore
To spite God, the Devil is nudging humanity to build a world that will rival Heaven, though after thousands of years he still hasn’t considered how that’s working out for him.
The Devil parked his car on the opposite shoulder and climbed out. He didn’t look like a tourist anymore. He looked like an old hippie: long-haired and tan, with a Fu Manchu beard, Lennon glasses, shirt completely open, boots and jeans.
These kids would expect horns, so he had horns.
“I like that gas-chamber song,” he said, crossing the road, pocketing his keys.
Three pairs of eyes goggled at him.
They were petrified. He had known they would be.
“Let me know when you’re ready to talk,” he said. Then he stepped into the middle of the crossroads, stirred up a campfire out of nowhere, and began roasting a marshmallow.
Dammit. They always caught on fire, no matter how careful he was.
He peeled the black skin and captured it with a long, prehensile tongue, careful not to get it in his beard.
“Hey,” said the girl, beside him.
“Hey back,” he said.
“Is this for real?” she asked.
“You came to the crossroads at midnight. What did you think was going to happen?”
I found this book worked a lot better as a series of vignettes with the Devil popping up at various points in history, than as a book with a straight plot. The fun isn’t so much in where it’s going as in what’s happening along the way. Poole has a satirical, and sometimes adult, take on the world we’re living in, and how we got here. This book is loaded with enough profound one-liners to host a Jenny Holzer exhibit, and it’s always funny to see the Devil’s disgust when things don’t go his way. This is one of those books my wife is happy I’m done reading so that I’m not cracking up in bed and reading her the jokes. If you can handle the Devil’s character arc being a little uneven, this is very much worth reading.
Or if you like:
Bad things happening to bad people
Having the literal day from Hell
You might like Satan Loves You, by Grady Hendrix
The devil is having management headaches all around.
“My Dark Lord and Master – ” Death began in the sepulchral voice of the tomb.
“Not in here,” Satan said. “Save that for the groupies.”
Death cleared his throat and continued in a normal tone of voice.
“I sent one of my assistants. They were supposed to take care of it.”
“You know the rules: fifty or more deaths and you have to handle it in person.”
“I – ”
“If that’s an excuse coming, I’m not interested.”
“I – ”
“You’re sorry? We’ve got one hundred and thirty-two supposedly dead people running around and you’re sorry?”
“I could go kill them now,” Death said, helpfully.
“You can’t go kill them now. Now is too late. These people have been on the local news. They’re negotiating merchandising rights. They’re getting interest from network television.”
Seeing bad things happen to bad people can make for great comedy, and while Hendrix writes the devil as a harried manager trying to run Hell with limited resources, Lucifer having a ridiculously bad day is still extremely funny. Add in historical figures, bureaucratic nightmares, an ongoing coup and the firing of Death…well it makes a fairly off the wall read that was still quotable and funny.
So, what other books should be on this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for my next column, where the theme will be: Neither Grim Nor Dark Fantasy.