Author of the Month

Name: Craig Russell

First Novel: Blood Eagle

Most Recent Book: The Devil's Aspect

'...delights and terrifies in equal measure.'

Synopsis:
Six confined psychopaths. A killer on the loose.

1935. As Europe prepares itself for a calamitous war, six homicidal lunatics - the so-called 'Devil's Six' - are confined in a remote castle asylum in rural Czechoslovakia. Each patient has their own dark story to tell and Dr Viktor Kosárek, a young psychiatrist using revolutionary techniques, is tasked with unlocking their murderous secrets.

At the same time, a terrifying killer known as 'Leather Apron' is butchering victims across Prague. Successfully eluding capture, it would seem his depraved crimes are committed by the Devil himself. Maybe they are... and what links him with the insane inmates of the Castle of the Eagles?

Only the Devil knows. And it is up to Viktor to find out.

Review:
Once in a while you read a book that changes the way you view all other books. ‘The Devil Aspect’ is such a book. I actually scored an ARC of this back in September, but knowing what a fine author Russell is, I set it aside as a wee Xmas treat for myself and boy was it worth the wait.

There is quite simply nothing about ‘The Devil Aspect’ that is less than brilliant. The characterisation is first class, the prose and setting are immersive while the plotting led me on the merriest of dances.

‘The Devil Aspect’ is layered with elements of Gothic horror as well as crime fiction in much the same way that ‘Silence of the Lambs’ is, with one notable difference, ‘The Devil Aspect’ is better. There! I have said it. Yes, it really is that good!

‘The Devil Aspect’ is a dark, immersive tale that smacks of authenticity as it delights and terrifies in equal measure. I am sure you will be hard pushed to read a better book than this in 2019!

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) The Devil Aspect’s setting has a wonderful authenticity about it. How did you go about researching the locations and the customs of those who lived there?
I walked the walk, to start with. I love Prague, Bohemia and the Czechs, so it was no ordeal for me to spend time there and walk the streets. You really do have a feeling that everything is strangely familiar, then you realize it’s from all of the fairytales you read as a kid and all the horror movies you watched. Sometimes it really is like being on a film set. The whole idea of the castle setting came from a visit to Castle Karlstejn, one of the spookiest places on the planet. But, of course, there was a huge amount of documentary research to be done. Just to add to the fun, of course, I not only set the novel in Czechoslovakia, I placed it in the mid 1930s, so there was masses of research to be done on that period in Czech history. I managed to get my hands on a copy of an Englishman’s travel journal charting his travels through Czechoslovakia in the early 1930s, so that helped. The other thing is I talked to Czechs. They are a fascinating, highly creative people with this unique, surreal and dark sense of humour. As always when I write, I tried to divest myself of my own cultural identity and place myself fully into the shoes of another place and culture. And, in this case, another time. It’s a skill I’ve pretty much honed writing the Fabel series in contemporary Hamburg and the Lennox series in ’fifties Glasgow.
2) Following on from question 1, the psychiatric elements of the story are a huge part of the tale, how tough was it to get all the nuances of mental health issues across in a way that made the story interesting rather than a dry medical textbook?
Carl Gustav Jung was my way into that. He was a genius, but his particular brand of genius is very hard to define. He was a physician, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a philosopher, a mystic, a writer, an artist… And he merged all of these elements into his understanding of the human mind and the ailments that beset it. To understand an individual patient’s obsessions or insecurities, he would delve into the collective unconscious and into myths and legends to find parallels—and potentially answers. It is a creative, almost artistic—and certainly philosophical—approach to psychology that resonates well with a writer. The mind as a story, if you like. Added to all of that is my longstanding interest in neurology and neuropsychiatry.

But to answer your question, the way to avoid dry technicality in describing psychiatric conditions is to remember the humanity of it all: that at the centre of each case is a human being, a personal torment.
3) The Devil’s Six are all abhorrent characters, yet as well as depicting their worst qualities, you also found a way to make them pitiable. Was this a deliberate act or a by-product of my own understanding of the book?
Oh, that’s completely deliberate. It’s central to the whole concept that each of these ‘monsters’ is a human being, and their personal histories, as well as a bad throw of the genetic dice, is what has brought them to where, and what, they are. Part of what I was trying to do was explore the concept of ‘evil’- and the Devil’s Six would meet anybody’s general criteria for what is evil - but it’s not as straightforward, or convenient, as you would think.
4) While utterly absorbing as a read, ‘The Devil Aspect’ is also a very intelligent thriller which was thought-provoking on several levels. Was it a labour of love to write or did it just flow from you?
The truth is that the book largely flowed, despite the research element (which, as you know, I love anyway). It all gets very Jungian, but I would say it felt like this book was sitting in my unconscious, waiting to be written. Which, if you think about the content, is really quite disturbing.
5) 'The Devil Aspect’ seems like a dab on for a fantastic movie or one of the TV adaptations that are proving so popular just now. Is this something that could happen or just me thinking wishfully again?
Your wish has already been fulfilled! Sony/Columbia Pictures bought the movie rights at manuscript stage, a full year before publication. So, ‘The Devil Aspect’ may hit the big screen in the not too distant future!
6) What’s next for Craig Russell? (Graham crosses his fingers that the name Lennox features positively in the answer.)
The next book will be another standalone, again gothic, but in a completely different period and setting. And again it’s high concept. More than that I can’t say at the moment! But both Lennox and Fabel may return in the future. It’s odd, but a lot of people thought the most recent volume in each series was the last - and that most definitely is not the case. Both Fabel and Lennox still have tales to tell…
7) As you’ve previously been our Author of the Month and Fresh Blood author, I’m not going to repeat myself and ask what your favourite three books are. Instead I’m going to really put you on the spot and ask you for three questions you’d ask a fan as a way to get a feel for how your writing is being received.
Craig Russell: I like to think that I push—and cross—the boundaries of genres. My first question would be, do you agree there’s a growing appetite for that kind of fiction?

Graham Smith: I think that the crossing of boundaries is a good thing provided the boundaries being crossed are good ones. Some mash-ups like a historical sci-fi wouldn’t work for me although steampunk novels have a dedicated audience. A horror romance seems wrong on many levels yet when you step back and examine any specific genre of fiction you find cross overs. The Devil Aspect and the aforementioned Silence of the Lambs both meld horror and crime beautifully, but Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels are basically a series of books about a wandering knight who comes into town, saves the day and then continues onward. This is also the basis for many western novels. Take Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings and as well as the fighting orcs and other mythical creatures you have a love story between Aragorn and Arwen Evenstar. Crime fiction has long used horror – or at least horrific deeds – as elements to drive the story. In short, yes, I think there’s a growing appetite for cross genre novels, although in a lot of cases readers aren’t particularly looking for a cross genre story, just a great one.

CR: My second question would be: what would you like me to write next? (Okay, Graham, I already know your answer to that!)

GS: The trite answer here would be another Lennox as you know how much I love the sardonic sleuth and his supporting characters of Twinkletoes, Mr Simpson and Tony the Pole, however, I’m going to put the pressure on you and say a book that’s every bit as fantastic as ‘The Devil Aspect’.

CR: My third would be: if you could choose, what type of fiction that is perhaps underrepresented by publishers and booksellers would you like to see more of?

GS: This is a really tough question to answer as there are so many great books out there. In the last few years, I’ve seen a number of authors release their debut novels to little or no fanfare from their publishers. Admittedly, I have seen others really soar due to the promotional efforts of their publishers so I guess the type of fiction I’d like to see more of is new. Too often fantastic authors and their novels fly under the radar due to lacklustre support from publishers. To my admittedly simplistic mind, once a debutant has signed on the dotted line, the publisher should be doing their utmost to make that book a success. Yes, publishing is a business, but when the average spend per debut author is around £350 there is very little publicity which can be generated by a London centric industry for such a paltry sum. Surely if a publisher believes in an author enough to sign them, they should support them with a decent publicity campaign. Too many fine authors are slipping back beneath the waves due to a lack of support from publishers.