The Devil in Amber review

Lucifer Box finds himself in a tight spot with the Prince of Darkness...

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Author: Mark Gatiss

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

256 pages • £15

ISBN: 0-74-325709-X

Rating:

The league of Gentlemen’s Mark
Gatiss has carved an enviable career out
of rummaging around in the toybox of
his boyhood passions. His latest novel
sees him indulging two more early
inspirations, combining the pulp
detective stories of John Buchan and
Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond with the
black magic thrillers of Dennis Wheatley.

The Devil In Amber transplants
Lucifer Box – the roguish philanderer,
aesthete and secret government
assassin of Gatiss’s previous novel, The
Vesuvius Club – from the Victorian era
to the roaring ’20s. Starting out playing
gumshoe in Manhattan, our hero soon
becomes embroiled in a bid to prevent
his namesake being summoned into
existence by a cabal of maniacal fascists,
led by a rum cove called Olympus Mons
and Lucifer’s own ice maiden sibling.

What makes Box’s adventures such a
joy is Gatiss’s finely-tuned ear for the
vernacular and idioms of the era,
whether describing fashion as “a gay but
unconstant dog” or grumbling about a
rival agent being “as smart as paint”.
These linguistic flourishes helped sustain
The Vesuvius Club through its less-than
satisfying plot but, second time around,
Gatiss has also delivered a genuine
page-turner, packed with enough thrills,
spills and intrigues to ensure the book
never sinks beneath the weight of its
brilliantly drawn pastiche.

It also scores big on atmosphere, with
the variety of wintry locations – from a
snow-bound New York to the blizzard-hit
Swiss Alps – deliberately calculated
to push the buttons of readers tucking
up with the book during the long, dark
evenings. After this hugely enjoyable
confection, a Fleming-riffing Cold War
thriller adventure for Box can’t come
soon enough.

Paul Kirkley

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