Angry Robot Books
Take two-parts Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files; drop in a generous dram of William Meikle’s The Midnight Eye Files; add in some low-key but well-written world-building; and finally, drag a reluctant, world-weary P.I. backwards through a bush made of cheap cigarettes, even cheaper Romanian whiskey, and a metric ton of bad luck.
Present, leave to chill, and you’ll come up with Don Drake, star of the eponymous Drake by Peter McLean. Drake is a hit-man working in South London, trying to keep his head low, his overdue bills paid, and piece his failing love life back together, with an unsurprising lack of success on all fronts. After a particularly well-written opening piece, where Drake loses a rigged game of cards (Fates – the choice card game of the discerning Archdemon) to a mid-level demonic Underworld boss, the novel picks up pace and doesn’t stop; within a few chapters, Drake has already assassinated several top-level magical users, killed an innocent child, and been kidnapped and tortured by a group of Grecian Furies as a form of vengeance.
From there, he has to deal with trying to prevent the complete fall of an Angel (who haven’t been seen on Earth for a thousand years up until now), try and stop the Furies from killing him, stop Lucifer himself from becoming involved, and make sure he isn’t killed by the Archdemon he lost to in the card game. It’s a tall order, and Drake doesn’t come out unscathed. Drake himself is an interesting character, and well-written; although he hits almost every cliché possible for a P.I./hitman (drinks excessively, slightly cowardly, sleeps in his office, eyes only for dames with long legs etc.), McLean writes him with skill and enough personality to differentiate him from others in the genre. By the end of the book, you can’t help but sympathise with him for his situation, despite the fact that a large part of it is his fault.
Drake is a good character, but for my money, the novel is at its best when Connie, the demonic bouncer/bodyguard for Wormwood, enters a scene. Although the stock character type (tall, built like a brick toileting facility, hits like a train hitting another train) is a dime a dozen in the Fantasy and Crime genres, Connie manages to steal every scene he’s in, in my opinion. Quiet, polite, even affable at times and yet more than happy to nearly beat Drake to death on several occasions, I found myself racing through the book, hoping that we’d get another scene with him in. I hope he gets more exposure in the next book in the series.
This is a really good book, especially for the start of a series, and from a new writer. The writing is tight, the characters likeable (even the unlikeable ones), South London is an interesting background that is underused in this genre, and the action keeps going to an open ending that bodes well for a sequel.