Devil-Devil – a novel review

Graeme Kent’s book arrived on my desk as one of those twitter-calls to the universe by somebody at his publishing house for reviewers. I am a total addict of the crime novel in all its many forms, and have a particularly soft spot for what I call ‘anthropological crime’ (I’m sure the trade has a much nicer term for it) so this book seemed likely to hit the mark for me.

Did it? Yes, actually, it did. I have my caveats: no glossary which is damned annoying when you’re trying to understand a wholly unfamiliar culture, and a certain perturbation over the divided narrative, but all in all, this is a very fine book, especially as it’s part of a series which often leads to a paring of the richness to share over several planned books – none of that here. Devil-Devil is set in the Solomon Islands and my complete ignorance of the region is what made me wish for a glossary, but it would have been an advantage rather than any kind of necessity, so perhaps I’m overly picky.

I wasn’t clear about the role of Sister Conchita. Sergeant Ben Kella is definitely our protagonist, a troubled man with a variety of roles to play (policeman, peacekeeper in the tribal sense, and to a degree, a communicator with the other world of spirits and ancestors) but Sister Conchita pops up and down in the narrative like a nun on a stick (quite literally as at one point she’s a kind of moving target for a gunman) The book is set in the 1960s and I would have expected a little more inner monologue from her, exploring her role as a nun at a time of massive social change, but I didn’t get it and that was the one weakness of the novel for me.

Otherwise, this is rounded, well-paced and fascinating. The cargo cult descriptions are nuggets of rich interest and the whole area of indigenous rights, tribal tensions and mild unrest against colonial powers would serve as good reading material for the current crop of politicians wrestling with, and failing over, the issues of Libya, Syria and so on. Although by the time it comes out in June, they’ll have thoroughly bollocksed the whole situation.

Highly recommended, especially to fans of Tony Hillerman, this novel is definitely going to make you want to read more!

And I’m off to rural Crete for a week, without much internet access, to work on revisions of my own novel …

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