Everything about The Devil Aspect spoke to me: it is set in Czechoslovakia in 1935 (I grew up in the Czech Republic), has a psychological aspect, is Gothic and full of Eastern European folklore. I was sold before I even started reading it. 🙂
Let’s take a look at Goodreads’ summary first, shall we?
A terrifying novel set in Czechoslovakia in 1935, in which a brilliant young psychiatrist takes his new post at an asylum for the criminally insane that houses only six inmates–the country’s most depraved murderers–while, in Prague, a detective struggles to understand a brutal serial killer who has spread fear through the city, and who may have ties to the asylum.
In 1935, Viktor Kosarek, a psychiatrist newly trained by Carl Jung, arrives at the infamous Hrad Orlu Asylum for the Criminally Insane. The state-of-the-art facility is located in a medieval mountaintop castle outside of Prague, though the site is infamous for concealing dark secrets going back many generations. The asylum houses the country’s six most treacherous killers–known to the staff as The Woodcutter, The Clown, The Glass Collector, The Vegetarian, The Sciomancer, and The Demon–and Viktor hopes to use a new medical technique to prove that these patients share a common archetype of evil, a phenomenon known as The Devil Aspect. As he begins to learn the stunning secrets of these patients, five men and one woman, Viktor must face the disturbing possibility that these six may share another dark truth.
Meanwhile, in Prague, fear grips the city as a phantom serial killer emerges in the dark alleys. Police investigator Lukas Smolak, desperate to locate the culprit (dubbed Leather Apron in the newspapers), realizes that the killer is imitating the most notorious serial killer from a century earlier–London’s Jack the Ripper. Smolak turns to the doctors at Hrad Orlu for their expertise with the psychotic criminal mind, though he worries that Leather Apron might have some connection to the six inmates in the asylum.
Steeped in the folklore of Eastern Europe, and set in the shadow of Nazi darkness erupting just beyond the Czech border, this stylishly written, tightly coiled, richly imagined novel is propulsively entertaining, and impossible to put down.
What did I think?
Let me put it this way: I have a feeling, this book will haunt my dreams for a while. 🙂 Its Gothic setting, enriched with folk legends, created a creepy sense of something gloomy and evil lurking in dark sections of Prague‘s cobbled streets. And I loved it.
I will not lie to you – there is a lot of gore involved. I grew up reading Stephen King and certain aspects of this book brought me back my teenage obsession with horror. If that is something that can bother you, you may want to proceed with care.
There are two story lines that intertwine:
The first one is told by Viktor – an ambitious psychologist that is working with six serial killers trying to uncover their ‘Devil Aspect‘. Viktor‘s work is based on collective unconscious – a theory introduced by Carl Jung to represent a form of the mind that contains memories and impulses of which the person is not aware of.
The second narrative is told by Lukas – a detective trying to capture a murderer called Leather Apron, who is replicating crimes of Jack the Ripper.
The plot is working out if the Devil Aspect exists as well as finding out who the murderer is.
Russell skilfully leaves a trail of breadcrumbs, which we can follow if we pay close attention to it. The answers to the mystery are all there, but we must carefully look for them. That is what I really appreciated. The ending wasn’t a giant twist for me but the process of finding out the answers was a lot of fun and left me with a smug sense of self-satisfaction in the end.
The Devil Aspect is set in Czechoslovakia in 1935. Czechs call this period ‘First Republic‘ – Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918, after the World War I ended, and its First Republic stage lasted till Munich agreement in 1938. I thought Russell splendidly captured the Czech nature. I loved how he got certain behavioural nuances, sometimes only locals are aware of. It felt authentic and I honestly am impressed by that.
I also appreciated the local folklore. I remember it, as if it was yesterday, my grandma symbolically spitting three times over her left shoulder to ward off any evil powers as the devil is known to be sitting on people’s left shoulders. This superstition is mentioned in the book amongst many others and brought me back a lot of nostalgia.
Overall, it is a relatively fast paced and highly atmospheric read.
I had a lot of fun guessing the mystery part of this book and recommend The Devil Aspect to those, who enjoy dark Gothic / horror stories.
I would like to thank both the author and the publisher, Little Brown Book Group for an advanced readers copy of this book in an exchange for an honest review.
Over to you my friends.
Do you enjoy these types of books?
If you do, fancy recommending me similar books please? I crave more…. thanks! 🙂