I’m not a massive fan of serial killer fiction, preferring my crime fiction to be noir and/or touching on issues of corruption, but occasionally a serial killer thriller comes along to break the mould or, at least, bring to it something fresh.

The description of The Devil’s Aspect was intriguing. On the cusp of the Second World War, Dr Viktor Kosárek takes a new job at a remote castle in Czechoslovakia that has been converted into a high-security asylum. Its inmates are the Devils Six, six of the worst mass killers in Central Europe. With names like The Woodcutter, The Clown, The Glass Collector, The Sciomancer and The Demon, there’s more than a little The Silence of the Lambs to this novel. But that’s not all, Prague is being terrorised by yet another serial killer, dubbed Leather Apron, and this is a further thread that runs through the narrative.

Dr Kosárek is a Jungian and believes that myths and legends are archetypes common to all humanity. Thus, he has a theory that one’s evil, a person’s Devil’s Aspect, is to blame for all that is wrong in the world and that the killers housed in the asylum did their wicked acts thanks to their Devil’s Aspect getting out of control. To prove his theory, he intends to use narcotics to put his patients into a suggestible state where he can identify and confront. But what he finds is far more frightening than he suspected.

This is a long novel, running to approximately 500 pages, but the pages fly by. It touches on the madness of the Third Reich and Nazism that is about to engulf Europe, the paranormal – the devil and demons – and the hunt for the serial killer, Leather Apron. While Viktor Kosárek is the main character, there is a strong supporting cast. Most notably of all is the Prague police detective, Kapitan Lukáš Smolák, who is in pursuit of Leather Apron and seeks Kosárek’s help and advice, and Judita Blochová, an asylum administrator of Jewish extraction who Kosárek develops feelings for.

This is a great novel and one that I read very quickly. If I have one criticism, it’s that there are a couple of gruesome scenes where Leather Apron’s victims are found. I’m not a prude but I do find the gratuitous violence in serial killer thrillers a little off-putting. Luckily, however, there are less than a handful of these scenes and the author resists the temptation to tip into prurience, something that some other writers of serial killer thrillers do.

The Devil’s Aspect has already been snapped up by Hollywood for adaptation, which is no surprise. This is actually the first novel of Craig Russell’s that I’ve read and on the strength of this I might well dig out his earlier work.

James Pierson 4/4

The Devil’s Aspect by Craig Russell
Constable 9781472128331 pbk Oct 2019