This is the second novel in Unsworth's series about Thomas Fool, an Information Man in Hell. The novel is set in THE Hell, the domain of Satan and all his demons, and the information men are human's, condemned souls, who for whatever reason Hell has allocated the task of investigating murders and crimes. Humans are the lowest of the low in Unsworth's depiction of Hell, prey to the predatory depravities of demons and other unspeakable horrors. Fool and his information men are never quite sure of their footing, of what crimes they should be investigating, of what perpetrators they should be pursuing.
This second novel starts with a number of unexplained fires, humans dying in great numbers trapped in the infernos. There are also unexplained massacres, the humans ripped limb from limb. Fool is getting nowhere in his investigations and is soon co-opted onto a diplomatic delegation to heaven. In part this is due to Heaven's gratitude to Fool for events that occurred in the last book, the first in the series, The Devil's Detective, where Fool helped bring a freshly fallen angel to justice. Fool travels up to heaven only to find that there's trouble in paradise, saved souls being murdered also. There are indications that this is all due to something new and he wonders whether the perpetrator is something from outside of Heaven and Hell, perhaps one of the strange monsters he saw trying to get in when travelling between the two.
Like The Devil's Detective, at heart The Devil's Evidence is a police procedural/detective novel, albeit with a unique setting and characters that are the epitome of good and evil: demons and angels. Purely on those terms it works well, constantly keeping the reader guessing and turning the page. But it is Unsworth's depiction of the afterlife that is so compelling. As with the first book, Hell is to put it bluntly, Hellish. It's not just the horrors and the deprivations that make it so, it's the sheer unpredictability, and the author is particularly good at conveying the sense of nervousness, paranoia and fear that all its human inhabitants have to live with.
But it's his depiction of Heaven in this book that is most unsettling. For while it seems like paradise at first, it soon becomes apparent that it's flawed, even before the murders and massacres that have recently come to afflict it. The saved souls are permanently unconscious, in a dream state, engrossed in their own personal heavens while the angels that tend to them feed on their joy like parasites. It all makes for a deeply unsettling vision. The evil in this book, the thing committing the murders in heaven and hell, is also disquieting. In fact, I found myself more disturbed by this novel than I did the first. There's something really creepy about it which at times had me putting it to one side.
All in all, this is a great read if you like horror and proof that the genre can be constantly reinvented despite all the books, movies, computer games, that compete to give us the chills.
5 out of 5 stars