Authors: Simon Kurt Unsworth
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright Â© 2015 by Simon Kurt Unsworth
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto, Penguin Random House companies.
and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
Jacket design by Michael J. Windsor
Jacket illustrations Â© Shutterstock: pipes: Opka; flowers: Loke Yek Mang;
flames: Clipart deSIGN; feather: echo3005
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Unsworth, Simon Kurt.
The devil's detective : a novel / Simon Kurt Unsworth. â First edition
ISBN 978-0-385-53934-0 (hardcover) â
ISBN 978-0-385-53935-7 (eBook)
1. Private investigatorsâFiction. I. Title.
To Rosie, the owner of my heart now and forever, who gave this novel its title and who holds my hand as we walk through the world and makes every day a thing of joy and wonder.
To Ben, my boy of boys, just because I love him.
To Mily, stepdaughter the elder, my diving partner and all-round cool girl.
To Lottie, stepdaughter the younger, who lives in Lottie La-La-Land and who sometimes lets us visit her there.
The four of you are the corners of my universe, the dizzying light above me and the great spaces to the side of me and steadying floor below me, and this book is yours if you want it, with all my love.
From his vantage point, here up high, the lights were scattered out below Fool in an uneven swathe. They lay in tangled clusters, forming a map of the city and its outlying geographies; most were gathered around the Houska, pale firefly glimmers emerging from its bars and clubs and brothels. The smaller rashes were farther out, the estates where the heavier industries worked through the night, the walled glints of Crow Heights, the various ghettos and fiefdoms, flotsam circling that central brightness. The tiniest and palest shimmer of lights, farthest out from the center of the city, was Eve's Harbor, where most of the working humans lived. As he watched, new lights came into being and others vanished, shifting the bellies of the clusters but never their overall shape. It was like watching the respiration of some enormous creature, he thought, as life and death pulsed through each area. Beyond them all the Flame Garden glowed, dirty and guttering, the color of burning, diseased wood.
To Fool's back, the vast stone wall that separated the city from what was outside was cold, its chill breath wafting around his shoulders and head. At the edge of his hearing, he could just make out the wails of the things that drifted and spun on its far side, lost and hoarse. He turned, shivering, and pulled his coat tighter, hitching the weapon on his hip so that it didn't dig into him.
The cold coming off the stone smelled clean and wet, the only place Fool knew that did. At times like this, when the air shifted and brought with it heat from the Flame Garden, he was able to stand facing the stone so that his front was cold and his rear warm, and it was like being in two places at once. Escort duty was boring, but at least it brought him
out here, where Hell became nothing but an array of light and dark that he could choose to turn his back on, if only for a few hours.
Fool turned again; if he stood still too long his feet began to ache. The ground on the Mount was hard and rough, and sharp edges dug through the soles of his boots and into his feet like teeth. Time was, a constant stream of sinners had walked this road and back, barefoot and bloody, but those days were long gone. He stepped a few yards back along the path, but went no farther. Partly it was duty; he had no idea when the delegates were expected and couldn't risk not being there for their arrival, but also it was caution. Out here at the edges, even a few feet from the wall, things lived that were wild even by the city's troubled standards. The gate itself and the area around it were safe, but away from the pale blue light that came from the tunnel, the shadows had claws and appetites.
Even now, Fool was being watched.
It was not simple instinct that told him this; twice, patches in the darkness had thickened, shifted, moved around him as he waited, and once a voice had called out “Man” in an elongated whisper that sounded as though the speaker's mouth was too full to form the sound correctly. Too full of what, Fool didn't like to think about. He turned again, thinking humorlessly,
Little spinning Fool
, and saw something moving in the tunnel.
How long the tunnel was, or what was at its end, Fool did not know. He was forbidden to enter, as was everyone except the delegates and the successful Sorrowful (who by that point were no longer the Sorrowful, Fool supposed, but more likely the
). It was long, though, he knew that, its illuminated length stretching as far as he could make out into the rock in a wide, arched corridor. There were no lamps in it that he could see, but it was bathed in light nonetheless, a cold gleam that seemed to come from the walls themselves and that cast no shadows. He went to the entrance, knowing that it would be some time yet before the delegates arrived but also knowing that this was the point of it, this was the Duty. He had to be there, honor guard and escort, from the moment they emerged from the tunnel, standing as an obedient servant, faithful as a dog.
, he thought,
little Fool dog.
Looking up, he watched the clouds. Even at night they glowed, the gleaming
whiteblue of promise and hope. They were never still, the clouds, scudding and swirling, occasionally breaking to allow him glimpses of the other city beyond them.
The shapes in the tunnel approached slowly, coalescing from the light as they came toward him. He watched them emerge, forming, imagining that cold blue light making itself into perfect, flawless, hard flesh, and flexed his toes in his thin boots. He was cold, the air settling into the folds of his clothes, puckering his skin and raising hairs across it. Fool waited, and watched, and made out details.
Four of them, as ever, one in front carving the air like the prow of a boat, and the others behind. One of the following, the one at the rear, was framed by arced patches of brightness that reached high above its head, moving, flexing wide to fill the tunnel. He sighed; they were almost here, their skin shining, bright and flawless. He had time for one last look up at the clouds, breaking again to reveal the city beyond and its white walls and myriad windows, showing the pillared glories of Heaven.
At the edges of his vision, lower than Heaven, he saw the frayed and dirty light of Hell, and then the angels reached the end of the tunnel and were with him.
The first looked older than Fool, its skin lined with perfect wrinkles that folded up into themselves as it smiled at him and said, “Hello. You are our escort, I take it? I am Adam.” Adam was shorter than Fool and bearded, and his eyes were a startling, brilliant blue, like the air around the spires of distant Heaven. As he emerged from the tunnel's mouth, he opened his arms widely as though to hug Fool and his black robe swung around him in a way that reminded Fool of flowing water. His skin was so pale it was almost translucent, unmarked by the traceries of veins or the fleck of hair or pore. Fool stepped aside, looking down; looking at Adam was like trying to stare at a candle flame without blinking, but even the ground glinted as though reflecting Adam's light. It made his eyes ache.
“Welcome to Hell, sir,” he said, feeling foolish. No matter how often he carried out escort duty, he never got used to the feelings of clumsiness and gracelessness that being next to these creatures raised in him. They were so beautiful, so graceful, a note of elegance in Hell's lumpen flesh, and he never knew how to act, despite his official status, or what to say.
Were these things even male? Was “sir” correct, or was there some other form of address he should know? He felt clumsy and uncoordinated in front of the angel, stolid and slow and heavy.
“Welcome?” asked Adam lightly. “No. There is no welcome here, I would hope, but only the opposite, the knowledge of pain and suffering and the distant chance of redemption.”
“Perhaps it means to insult us,” said a second voice, and one of the figures behind Adam stepped forward, came out from the blue and into the darkness, bringing with it a light that didn't so much gleam as
, as though it were lit from within by an inferno. Glancing up, Fool could make out little through the light, except that it was naked and that great arcs hung behind it in the air, shifting and flexing.
, thought Fool, looking back down to where the dirt was awash with reflected light.
“Welcoming the Lord's emissaries to Hell hardly seems appropriate, does it? It should be prostrate before us, begging our mercy and deliverance, praying that we allow God's mercy to burn it away to nothing, but instead it stands and extends welcome as if we were common visitors. No wonder it remains damned.”