Michelle Herbert reviews The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell…
The Devil Aspect begins in Prague in 1935 where we meet Dr Viktor Kosárek, who is leaving the city for a position at Hrad Orlů, a notorious asylum and former castle, which is now home to The Devil Six, the most insane and depraved murderers that Czechoslovakia knows. Hrad Orlů has a dark history and is avoided by the locals in the village. Prague at this time is being haunted by an atrocious murderer known as Leather Apron. It is on Police Captain Lukáš Smolák to catch Leather Apron and mitigate the terror that the citizens of Prague are feeling.
There is a lot of signposting that Leather Apron’s crimes are reminiscent of Jack the Ripper, in the way that he kills his female targets, although not all of his victims are prostitutes, but they do seem to come from the outskirts of society. Prague is an interesting setting for this book, as it is 17 years after the country became the Republic of Czechoslovakia. This is also an uncertain time in continental Europe with the rise of nationalism in Germany, which is reflected in Czechoslovakia as it is home to people from many places who have made this country their home. Kosárek arrives at the Asylum at a time when people are taking sides with those who see themselves as Czechoslovakian on one side and those who see themselves as German on the other.
Kosárek is employed at the asylum to study The Devil Six as he has an idea that connects their compunctions to an overarching Devil Aspect. Mixing modern ideas on psychiatry and how to treat the criminally insane with Jungian views on the collective unconscious and how mythology is the basis of human psychology. As the book is split between the asylum and Prague, you do begin to wonder how Kosárek and Smolák’s stories will intertwine. Due to this need for both of these characters to interact it does feel like we are being guided to a big showdown between the two.
The Devil Aspect is a dark and atmospheric book which is meticulously planned. Some moments do feel like we are given huge hints of where the book is going, which does slow it down in parts. There are gruesome moments throughout the story, especially when we learn about the crimes of the Devil Six and those performed by Leather Apron. The story also includes some very creepy moments which some of the characters have to endure and hopefully survive.
This is a gripping book, but at points, it felt like there were too many ideas having to fight for ascendancy. This led to some good twists, although the ending felt a little contrived to me. To end, this is an engaging book, with a dark heart, that verges on a whodunit in places.