The Devil in Amber by Mark Gatiss
30 December, 2009
I had very good intentions of finishing three books before the New Year but have only managed to finish one before Christmas and spent the rest of the time eating, drinking and playing with my delightful nephews. Oh, and reading lots of gossip mags (what is it with gossip mags that you just can’t keep your eyes from devouring all that rubbish?)
I’ve been meaning to pick up The Devil in Amber for quite a while since I finished the first in the trilogy by Mark Gatiss, The Vesuvius Club, featuring Lucifer Box. What a name for a spy! I was already drawn by the title and the protagonist, but what really interested me was that Mark Gatiss is one of The League of Gentleman, the dark and disturbing comedy quatro who spawned the myriad monstrous characters inhabiting Royston Vasey.
Sometimes when you like something so much, you’re a little frightened to try the second in the series. But I found The Devil in Amber in the library and snatched it up pronto. And it was a truly enjoyable read. It’s not a very big book, it reads fast and the plot was exciting. Although the mystery wasn’t difficult, Gatiss’ prose is tight, energetic and irreverent and he really had Lucifer Box nailed down.
The Devil in Amber is set twenty years after The Vesuvius Club, and Lucifer Box, one of the best spies in Britain is beginning to feel his age. Constantly having to look behind him for rivals happy to see him fall, we find Lucifer in New York messing up an investigation and being overtaken by the shining new star of British Intelligence, Percy Flarge. However, all is not as it seems as Lucifer manages to retrieve one small piece of forgotten evidence. Mix in some double dealings, a rising egomaniacal fascist star intent on releasing the ultimate evil, a racy Atlantic crossing and Lucifer’s estranged sister Pandora, and you get an explosive mix of mystery, adventure and comedy all set in the late 1930s.
I really enjoyed this book, especially the small comic touches such as the Royal Academy in Piccadilly doubling up as the secret headquarters of British Intelligence. Gatiss has a way with words and an ingrained sense of comedy that would rival anyone’s. It’s a light, clever and well-written mystery, and I can’t wait to start his last book in the trilogy, Black Butterfly (which is sitting right there in my TBR pile).