Saturday, June 8, 2013

Book Review: The Diabolist by Layton Green

The Diabolist

Written by: Layton Green

Published: 2013

Synopsis: In this gripping thriller, the bizarre murder of a Satanic priest in San Francisco draws Dominic Grey and Viktor Radek, private investigators of cults, to the scene. Witnesses claim a robed figure, seemingly able to appear and disappear at will, set fire to the priest. When the leader of another Satanic cult in Paris dies under similar circumstances, the case only grows stranger… and more dangerous.

Convinced that a charismatic New Age prophet is behind the murders, the investigators undergo a perilous journey into the world of the occult as they try to penetrate the prophet’s inner circle. From the catacombs of Paris to London’s nefarious East End, from the haunted walls of York to a monastic fortress in the Sicilian wilderness, the case plunges Viktor and Grey into a vortex of black magic, ancient heresies, and the dark corners of their own pasts.

A copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review.

"Because magicians, at least real magicians, have no connection to santanists. The popular American concept that gullible teenagers are drawn into Satanism through the occult is an urban myth. Someone who reads Harry Potter, plays role-playing games, or dabbles with tarot and palm reading is no more likely to start worshiping the devil than anyone else" 

Reading Layton Green makes me really angry at Dan Brown.

Dan Brown is pretty good at what he does and I don't begrudge him his success, but when it comes to interesting characters embarking on a thrilling exploration into the dark world of cults, religions and magic Layton Green does it SO much better. Sure it's possible Layton Green will get the recognition he deserves, and this might even the book that makes people stand up and take notice, but right now Dan Brown is probably laying on an ridiculously large rotating bed throwing money into the air giggling like a school girl and that irks me tremendously.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed The Diabolist. This is the third book in Green's Dominic Grey series, and easily my favourite. The Egyptian, the second in the series, was the first book I read, and while I would recommend taking in the entire series chronologically they're designed to be stand-alone books - akin to Sherlock Holmes, certain previous knowledge is presumed but you aren't left in the dark if you choose to jump around through the order.

Joining our unassuming hero Dominic Grey in a more direct capacity is his boss, the absinthe-drinking professor, Viktor Radek. And unlike in the previous books, the veil of mystery is removed from Victor and he becomes less an adroit cult expert and more a flawed, troubled and deeply fascinating man. Though they're separated for much of the novel, the interplay between Dominic and Viktor was one of my favourite elements. Victor is the world famous phenomenologist, descended from minor Bohemian royalty with a heady addiction to absinthe. He's sharp and intelligent but has a quietness and softness that betrays his near-7 foot height. Dominic, on the other hand, is small, slight and trained in a litany of martial arts and surveillance techniques. They make a formidable team, the teacher and the student, the protector and the protected, the father and the son...but which character takes which position shifts constantly throughout the novel. They both have their flaws, blind-spots and their vulnerabilities but each regards the other as the most important person for them to protect and their loyalty to one another is touching.

The thing Layton Green does really well is blur lines. Nothing is black and white in Green's world (or ours to be quite frank), there is no clear divide between good and evil, magic and illusion, reality and imagination. In the end the only thing the characters can rely on is their faith, their faith in science, or in a God or in their partner, but the acts of the novel are constructed to shake that faith to its core, to make it impossible for a character to confidently claim to believe in any one thing. Answers are provided at the end of the novel, but not to every seed of doubt that was planted. By the conclusion of the novel, each character has had to reexamine their beliefs and concede that maybe they aren't as sure as they once were. And as we come out the other end, we, as readers, have our own beliefs and assumptions shaken and questioned. It's the way a book should be, asking questions, encouraging introspection, and delivering information and alternate points of view without being didactic or pushy.

There is only really one female character (aside from Eve who appears briefly in flashback) and while she's mostly hovering along the periphery, Anka is also one of the most riveting and oblique characters in the story. She isn't simply there to be romantically involved with Dominic, she's a mystery to be solved, a question to be answered and, potentially, the key to solving the whole thing. I feel like I may have made her sound like a tool to be used by the male protagonists and I guess in some ways that's exactly what she is. But I also think she's a physical manifestation of the religious and moral debates that proliferate this story, she's within and without, and it's great.

The Diabolist is a well-paced and thrilling narrative that had me captivated throughout. The characters are complex, the mystery well portrayed and the content is intelligent and clearly well researched. These are the kinds of books you read with a wikipedia or google tab open so you can read up on Ahriman or Satanic cults or Bram Stoker's connections to magic as you wind your way through the story, and I can't wait to see what phenomenon Viktor and Dominic get involved with next.


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