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THE DEVIL IS BACK
The Devil In Amber - Mark Gatiss
Member Name: Mauri
The Devil In Amber - Mark Gatiss
Date: 07/08/07, updated on 08/06/09 (158 review reads)
Advantages: A great read, funny and entertaining
Lucifer Box is an intriguing literary creation a James Bond figure with the moral depravity that would make Harry Flashman look like a country vicar; Box swings both sides of the gender divide.
Lucifer Box like Flashman is the ultimate anti hero, he is selfish, immoral and egoistic but unlike Flashman he is courageous and while it coincides with his own interests he does with some regularity save the Empire from even more wicked and ruthless master criminals and evil foreign plots.
In the first novel we see Lucifer Box in his prime as a twenty something man serving his country as a secret agent working for the most secret of secret government agencies 'The Royal Academy' (?). His daytime occupation as an artist provided perfect cover for him just as the pursuit of fine art provides perfect cover for the agency. While he is not saving Britain from criminal plots he was busy having sex with anyone he was able to... male or female. Written in the first person through the eyes of Lucifer Box the reader really gets into his mind a place where you don't always want to be.
In his latest incarnation in 'The Devil In Amber' much time has passed, we are now two decades on Box is not a young man anymore and he's conscious of it. Even as an artist he has fallen out of fashion, his classical portrait style giving way to the newer abstract and cubist paintings. Once the darling of the secret service his position as number one agent is under threat from young upstarts such as the arrogant Percy Flarge. When on a mission in twenties art deco New York to assassinate a drug dealer Hubbard 'The Cupboard' Box is almost killed and only saved by Flarge. His confidence and ego are severely dented by this. More importantly the confidence of his superior and spymaster Joshua Reynolds (not The Joshua Reynolds) in his abilities are also dented and as a consequence Box finds himself given a rather mundane mission to observe the activities of F.A.U.S.T fascist leader Olympus Mons, which he feels does not become his reputation or importance. Needless to say his mundane mission soon becomes much more complicated as he gets entangled with dark plots, murder and black magic his most powerful adversary might end up being his name sake the Devil himself!
Has Lucifer finally met his match?
Apart from the formidable and exotic villains the story is once again populated with vivid characters that aid Box in his mission such as sidekick Rex 'the gay bellhop' and Delilah Lucifer's redoubtable cockney servant.
Once again Gatiss has written a fantastic yarn full of wit and verve. His use of language effortlessly builds up the tension of the story and creates an authentic historical atmosphere. Making Box older and going through a minor confidence crisis was an intriguing idea and opens up the character from a completely different view. He's still the self-obsessed devious and amoral scoundrel that we all loved so much from the first novel but his self-doubt and youthful arrogance are tempered just a little. The threats from the young upstarts around him make him a more sympathetic figure.
The settings of the story in twenties gangster ridden prohibition America, London, Switzerland and rural Norfolk are stylishly brought to life by Gatiss who once again show his great skill and wit as a writer of the old fashioned 'Boy's Own' adventure story.
However the wit and humour of the writing and the stylistic qualities of the story never get in the way or the plot which twists and turns throughout as we see Box getting out of one scrape and into another with enjoyable and exciting regularity. While still a witty plot 'The Devil In Amber' does deal with more serious themes in greater depth than the previous novel and Box is seen as a vulnerable figure regretting the loss of friends and youth in the Great War.
The blurb on the book cover describes
'The logic and drive of Sherlock Holmes blends with the seductive thrill of Hitchcock'
and this just about sums up the flavour of the book.
Although 'The Devil in Amber' is in the end a clever pastiche of many different styles and genres of past fiction this does not detract from it. It is clear from the writing that Mark Gatiss knows his subject well and has a real love for the types of books he is affectionately imitating.
One further thing to mention is the look of the book. The cover has a picture of a dashing well-groomed man clearly from the 20's/30's period holding a gun whilst hiding in the shadows and perfectly matches the premise of the book. Just as in 'The Vesuvius Club' this book is punctuated by small illustrations at the beginning or each chapter and larger sketch drawings throughout the text again reminiscent of those found in the 'Boy's Own' magazine stories or the pulp novels of the time. This is a small detail that really adds to the feel of the book.
Any fans of Gatiss from his time with the League of Gentleman could enjoy 'The Devil In Amber'; his depraved twist of the classic crime novel genre sits well with that blend of dark comedy. The story itself is strong enough to keep fans of mystery writing intrigued and entertained to the very end and fans of rollicking good adventures populated by larger than life characters such as those in the Flashman Papers will also be delighted with the novel. The nature of Box's character and associate sexual proclivities (although never too graphically illustrated) will undoubtedly have the potential to shock and offend, so morally righteous faint-hearted readers be warned!
Gatiss has promised another Lucifer Box adventure set later in his life and all the additional changes and problems that might entail for him and I for one can't wait.
The Devil In Amber by Mark Gatiss can be bought from Amazon in Paperback (256 pages) published by Pocket Books (ISBN-10: 0743483804/
ISBN-13: 978-0743483803) for £3.99 (+p&p) at the time of writing this review.
Summary: The further adventures rougish secret agent and artist Lucifer Box