Friday, 12 June 2009

‘Mark of the Demon’ – Diana Rowland (Bantam Books)

I know, I know... A few weeks ago I pretty much swore off reading urban fantasy after one pointless sexual encounter too many. What is that all about by the way? It doesn’t do anything for the plot that I can see. I don’t get it, can someone explain? Anyway... I was going to stick to my guns and not pick this up until I noticed two magic words, on the cover, that changed my mind completely. Next to the bit that said ‘urban fantasy’ were the words ‘police procedural’...
To me, ‘police procedural’ suggests hours of patient detective work that unearths clues when you least expect them. It also suggests at least one cunning twist in the plot and a hail of bullets that marks the final confrontation. This is just my kind of thing so I ignored my misgivings and gave ‘Mark of the Demon’ a go. I’m glad that I did...

Life has just got very interesting for Louisiana detective Kara Gillian. Outside work hours she summons demons (and is very good at it too) but has somehow managed to summon a lot more than she bargained for. Rhyzkhal isn’t just any old demon; he’s a Lord with his own schemes and plans for Kara. Turning up in her dreams is only the start... If that wasn’t bad enough Kara’s first case as a homicide detective is a big one. Serial killer the Symbol Man is back to pick up his work from where he left off three years ago, leaving mutilated corpses lying around for the police to find. Is Kara in over her head? Are the two big events in her life somehow linked? Only time will tell but time is one thing that Kara does not have...

‘Mark of the Demon’ is a slow starter that had me hooked before I knew it and this is despite the ‘demon sex’ passage right at the beginning. I groaned a bit, reading it, but it actually had a part to play in setting the stakes for Kara. Rowland’s demons are not angst ridden types looking for a relationship or someone to understand them, these guys are real nasty pieces of work who are only out for what they can get for themselves, not what they can give. Kara knows this and also knows that her demonic encounter can only end badly if she is not very careful. Every time Rhyzkhal makes an appearance it’s clear that Kara is walking on a knife edge and this makes for some very tense moments during the course of the book.

The book then goes on to become an intriguing mix of detective fiction and the supernatural that is balanced in just the right way to give the reader a mystery filled with moments that made me jump or had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. I also found it to be a compelling read in terms of a mystery that gradually unfolds and isn’t quite what you think. I had my misgivings about how the Symbol Man could have escaped his original fate to embark on his killing spree (read the book to see what I mean) but although that was a bit tenuous I completely bought his reasons for doing what he did. It all made sense.

That last sentence also applies to the book as a whole. The reader is fed bits of the jigsaw all the way through and the end result is a picture with no blurs or gaps in the plot. I wondered if perhaps everything fitted together a little too well... Rowland takes time to tie off every single loose end, of the mystery, and I wondered if it was all a little too neat; the signs are that there will be at least one more book and a slightly ambiguous ending to ‘Mark of the Demon’ would have had me more interested in seeing what happened next.

Having said that though, I do want to see what happens next. Kara Gillian was a fun character to get to know and the rest of the Beaulac Police Force all seemed to have their own little quirks that made them all stand out on the page. I didn’t get the hail of bullets I was hoping for but the climactic scenes were full on enough for it not to matter and that was what I really wanted.

‘Mark of the Demon’ is Diana Rowland’s debut work and, despite a couple of niggles, promises good things to come. I’m going to make sure that I’m around to see it happen.

Eight out of Ten


Kendall said...

Wow, that sounds very good! I like occasional urban fantasy, but not the, uh, typical stuff. I'll have to check this out; I want to like/read more UF, but most of it doesn't interest me for similar reasons as you've mentioned. ;-)

The cover shot you posted doesn't have the "police procedural" quote. has the same pic, while has a slightly different one with the "police procedural" quote. Did you get the U.S. edition, or are they really the same (and the U.K. image is simply wrong/old)? Just wondering. I'm always interested in geeky things like transatlantic differences in the "same" book. ;-)

Seth said...

I agree with your misgivings about Urban Fantasy. Jim Butcher's Dresden Files are the only UF books I really enjoy. I recently got a review copy of a Laurell K. Hamilton book, Blood Noir, and really agree about the gratuitous sex

But your review almost makes me want to read Mark of the Demon, almost... I'll pick it up if I find a lull in my schedule.

Graeme Flory said...

Kendall - I got the US edition but had real trouble finding the correct cover image online. I hate it when that happens!

Seth - There's a couple of moments where 'Mark of the Demon' goes a little Laurell K. Hamilton but, on the whole, this is a book that actually concentrates on the plot at hand!

Ana said...

I completely agree with everything you said. I really liked it too.

And I was completely WTF with the (apparently) random demon sex thing (but at least there was an explanation for it).

I thought the procedural parts were really good - the author has a background in police work.

Graeme Flory said...

I really enjoyed the procedural stuff too, Rowland comes across like she knows just what she's talking about.