The Devil’s Evidence by Simon Kurt Unsworth horror book reviewsThe Devil’s Evidence by Simon Kurt Unsworth

The Devil’s Evidence (2016) is Simon Kurt Unsworth’s follow up to last year’s horror novel, The Devil’s Detective. In this book, Thomas Fool, the Devil’s Information Man, is sent to Heaven to try to solve a mystery, and soon he is trying to stop a war.

Since the purpose of Hell is to promote human suffering, it isn’t surprising that Fool suffered terrible losses in the first book, and it seems as if there wouldn’t be much left for him to lose in this book. That’s not the case. Unsworth manages to find a way to cause Fool just as much, if not more, pain and anguish in The Devil’s Evidence, in part because Fool gets to spend some time in Heaven, where the landscape is beautiful, the air smells sweet, and fabrics are soft and clean.

However, something is happening in Heaven that the angels there cannot understand, and they requested the investigator from Hell. Benjamin and Israfil are the two angels sent to guide Fool, along with two other demons, who are part of the delegation but seem to be there to keep an eye on Fool. The Joyful, the humans who inhabit Heaven, have begun dying, not in a tranquil way but traumatically. Israfil and Benjamin, blinded by the perfection they believe to be Heaven, cannot see the pattern that Fool notices immediately: not only have some Joyful died in a terrible way, but others are missing. These strange occurrences seem to mirror events Fool had been investigating in Hell: mysterious fires and murders following no known pattern.

The suspense in The Devil’s Evidence springs once again from Fool himself and a certain indomitability of his character. He literally has the host of Heaven and Hell arrayed against him; the angels ignore his theories and destroy evidence, while his rival in Hell demands reports via a tattooed mouth on Fool’s body that tears at his flesh as they speak. Unsworth’s gift for the terrifying or creepy detail works here just as well as it did in The Devil’s Detective. He ups the ante by giving us moments of friendship and tenderness that Fool tries to snatch from his surroundings, knowing that he will be returning to Hell and every tender moment is something that will be used to torture him later — or that he will use to torment himself.

It could be said that there are two “fools” in this book, because one of Fool’s dubious allies is a “clown angel” named Mayall. In his Afterword, Unsworth mentions how deeply he felt the loss of Robin Williams, and Mayall displays moments of Williams-like frenzy. Ultimately, though, he is a force of chaos in the extreme (and very strange) order of Heaven, and that is his strength. Perhaps in the same way, Fool’s investigative ability makes him a force of order in the terrible chaos of Hell.

Like everyone in Hell, Fool has no idea why he was sent there; human souls fall into Limbo and are fished out in Hell with no memories or who they are or what they did. There seem to be a few hints piling up about Fool, though. Thomas Fool was not his human name, it was given to him in Hell, and he’s the only human with two names. In the Christian tradition, Thomas was the skeptic. Fool also thinks about the first war between Heaven and Hell, and his thoughts are slightly more like memories than a list of abstract facts. At the end of the book, Mayall offers to let him know what he was before he came to Hell.

“I can tell you,” said Mayall quietly. “It might help you make sense of your time here. It might help you understand this punishment, if you understood the kind of monster you were.”

Fool declines the offer, but there’s a hint in there.

I figured out pretty early in The Devil’s Evidence who was behind the ploy to start another war between Heaven and Hell, but that didn’t diminish the power of this story. Fool fights to carve out a moral code, a purpose for himself in a place where any and every good thing is corrupted or besmirched, where the very skills he has been chosen for are frustrated and turned against him, and this, along with Unsworth’s powerful and strange descriptions, are what kept me compulsively turning the pages. An image that stayed with me long after I closed the covers was that of the resting place of books; a graveyard, where holy books that have been worn out are brought to a chapel and laid to rest with honor. It is strange and beautiful and I am still thinking about it.

The Devil’s Detective and The Devil’s Evidence are horror novels, but Unsworth captures the tone and weary, wounded voice of the best of the noir detectives. Fool is surrounded by corruption; every triumph of detecting results in a greater loss for him, and that is how the game is rigged. Because of who he is — whoever he is — this does not stop him. This unusual series still fascinates me.

Published July 5, 2016. Thomas Fool—the resilient investigator doomed to catalog Hell’s atrocities in Simon Kurt Unsworth’s stunning debut, The Devil’s Detective—is back. The man with no memory of who he was or what led to his damnation is now in command of the Information Office of Hell. This power has only inspired new, deadly enemies like Mr. Tap, the cunning leader of a shadowy organization known as the Evidence. Fool alone has survived the wrath of both demon and angel, and now he faces his most thrilling and complex challenge. Troubling and deadly fires are spreading throughout Hell, and it is Fool’s job to sift the ashes and find their source. The clues he finds are mysterious and unsettling, implying something different from the usual litany of cruelty he sees. But one fact is the most disconcerting: the fires have left his masters at the Bureaucracy terrified. In the midst of the chaos, Fool is sent to accompany a political delegation to Heaven. It is unprecedented for a condemned human to enter the land of the elevated, but Fool is protected as one of Hell’s own. When his arrival coincides with the discovery of an impossible murder, he faces a catastrophic paradox. Violence, corruption, and fear are Hell’s currency; how does one investigate evil where those concepts cannot exist? Impossible or not, the killings are real, and the evidence leads Fool deep into the contradictions of a visionary landscape, where danger can present itself in any form, and to the heart of a conspiracy with the power to upset the balance of Heaven and Hell. The Devil’s Evidence is an exotic crime thriller as exhilarating as anything in recent fiction. It is a provocative novel of horror, filled with sharp twists and propulsive action that will keep you riveted through the final page.

Devil — (2015-2016) Thomas Fool is an Information Man, an investigator tasked with cataloging and filing reports on the endless stream of violence and brutality that flows through Hell. His job holds no reward or satisfaction, because Hell has rules but no justice. Each new crime is stamped “Do Not Investigate” and dutifully filed away in the depths of the Bureaucracy. But when an important political delegation arrives and a human is found murdered in a horrific manner—extravagant even by Hell’s standards—everything changes. The murders escalate, and their severity points to the kind of killer not seen for many generations. Something is challenging the rules and order of Hell, so the Bureaucracy sends Fool to identify and track down the killer. . . . But how do you investigate murder in a place where death is common currency? Or when your main suspect pool is a legion of demons? With no memory of his past and only an irresistible need for justice, Fool will piece together clues and follow a trail that leads directly into the heart of a dark and chaotic conspiracy. A revolution is brewing in Hell . . . and nothing is what it seems. The Devil’s Detective is an audacious, highly suspenseful thriller set against a nightmarish and wildly vivid world. Simon Kurt Unsworth has created a phantasmagoric thrill ride filled with stunning set pieces and characters that spring from our deepest nightmares. It will have readers of both thrillers and horror hanging on by their fingernails until the final word. In Hell, hope is your worst enemy.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.