This has the potential to be a big-selling title. Set in Czechoslovakia in 1935, it wasn’t long before I could appreciate Craig Russell as a real storyteller with his fiction enriched by cultural stories, myths, urban tales and localised legends. Main character Viktor Kosarek begins work at an asylum for the criminally insane housed in a foreboding castle with just six extremely dangerous patients. Dr Kosarek has a theory that pure evil lurks in an obscure part of the psyche and this “Devil Aspect” can be brought to the surface during therapy and then exorcised. Meanwhile, there is a killer stalking the streets of Prague viciously dismembering whilst clad in a blood-stained leather apron.

Russell is very good at cranking up the fear factor. There’s even a scary clown, for goodness sake! The therapy sessions means the backstories of the inmates can be fleshed out in detail which does make for some pretty blood-curdling reading. The plot is handled well. I never saw what was coming with any of the twists in the tale. It is extremely dark and occupies the space where crime and horror blend, which would make it a potent and highly commercial brew for a film adaptation.

Although at times some of the revelations seem audacious and over-the-top, Russell certainly gets away with it. This is because of his seamless research, a good feel for the period and that enrichment of legends from the past juxtaposed with the psychological theories in his novel’s present which all builds up the spine-chilling elements. This is a gory read, but a gripping one.

Phil Ramage 4/4

The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell
Constable 9781472128355 hbk Mar 2019