‘Maybe it would be best,’ she said at last, ‘if you left the Devil alone in his hiding place.’
This book had so much to love – a serial killer on the loose, a medieval castle with a dark history that’s now an asylum and a psychiatrist delving into the minds of the most notorious murderers in Europe, all steeped in folklore and mythology and set in the lead up to WWII.
I adored the settings, from the creepy castle to the shadowy forests and the bone church. The writing flowed well and it felt like the author had done a lot of research, particularly around Central European myths and legends, which I need to learn more about now that I’ve had a taste. I really enjoyed the blend of psychology and mythology.
Here am I and I here stay, for this is where Evil resides. Here am I and I here stay, for this is where the Devil hides.
The idea of having a front row seat (nestled behind the safety of the pages) when infamous criminally insane people told their stories was a big draw card for me. While I was interested in the backgrounds of each of the Devil’s Six, none of them gave me the chills I experienced when I first met Hannibal Lector so many years ago.
I found myself just getting into one of the Six’s stories and then it would be over; I’d want more but the story moved on. Each of the six could have had an entire book devoted to their story so sitting in on one session with their psychiatrist was never going to be enough for me. I was disappointed when I found some of their stories fairly predictable, especially the Vegetarian’s.
Has obsessing over more than 300 episodes of Criminal Minds finally ruined me? I am notoriously terrible at figuring out who did it and why, yet there’s been a disturbing recent development; I’ve been working out who did it early on and then spending the rest of the book hoping for a blindside that never arrives. It happened again here and I don’t know if it’s because I’ve magically levelled up in my ability to sniff out the clues from the red herrings or if it really was that obvious.
Content warnings include mental health, suicide, references to the death of a child, description of an animal’s slaughter, anti-Semitism, sexual assault, child abuse, murder and torture.
Thank you to NetGalley and Constable, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group UK, for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
In 1935, Viktor Kosárek, 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.