Mike Carey’s Felix Castor is currently dominating my bedside table. After completing The Devil You Know and Vicious Circle I am now making good progress with Dead Men’s Boots. To come are the fourth and fifth in the series, Thicker Than Water and The Naming of the Beasts.
Carey is an odd writer. At times his prose is extremely atmospheric and effective, but he often sinks into lazy and almost woeful writing. The fault is possibly the sheer weight of what he is attempting to achieve; very lengthy novels produced at regular intervals, where quality sometimes, but not always, suffers from the dictates of pace. Perhaps also Carey doesn’t have much faith in himself as a writer of quality. He is simply content to produce popular, or even pulp, fiction.
At over five hundred pages, Dead Men’s Boots does at times feel overlong. For a reader dedicated enough to reach the series as far as this third instalment it’s possible that Carey doesn’t need to fill in on as much as the background story as he does. Both Castor’s history and the stories of his associates are explained quite fully in both Vicious Circle and Dead Men’s Boots. Castor in an exorcist, discovering his talent at an early age when he had to rid himself of his dead sister’s ghost. He works in an alternative London, one intricately detailed to resemble the real capital but one also populated with a variety of horrors. Ghosts, zombies and loup gorous, demonic werewolf type creatures. He is joined by a series of recurring characters. Nicky is a zombie who has to keep his body chilled to avoid decomposition. He also enjoys a glass of wed wine but only to sniff, his digestive system long shut down. Juliet is a demon who preys on sexual lust, although since the close of The Devil you Know has become less of a threat and more of an ally to Castor. She’s also living in a single sex relationship with one of the supporting cast of Vicious Circle. Then there’s Rafi, a man possessed and incarcerated, whose plight haunts the background of the series.
Vicious Circle featured several interconnected stories, something Carey is revealing himself the master of. A missing ghost, a haunted church, both were extremely believable threads for a fantasy novel. In Dead Men’s Boots he appears more ambitious, and introduces several tales in parallel. The Rafi story continues, and Castor and his exorcist peers are tormented by a mysterious band of exorcist bashers. In the foreground however is Castor and Juliet’s investigation of a brutal murder. A man is convicted of the crime but was it really him? Or perhaps the ghost of a dead American criminal? Carey takes his characters beyond their usual setting with Castor and Juliet travelling to the US.
With five novels in three years, Mike Carey has created a successful franchise that, with a little tidying around the edges, will no doubt make the transfer to film or television that it’s crying out to do. However, in the Twilight soaked climate that also finds room for Being Human and True Blood it’s difficult to see how this would really be worthwhile. What Carey really needs to do is hone in his writing talent to produce a leaner piece of work that is content to stay on the page and not reveal itself as a wannabee screenplay. Somebody needs to give him a push, just a little one, for him to realise that he could be a quality author.