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The Devil Aspect


The Devil Aspect

In the autumn of 1935, the raven-haired and devilishly handsome 29-year-old clinical psychiatrist Dr. Viktor Kosárek assumes his post at the castle of Hrad Orlů Asylum for the Criminally Insane. With spires like witch hats that rise above the dense surrounding pine forests, this Czechoslovakian medieval fortress has a long nefarious history of immuring the infernal, such as the infamous Jan of the Black Heart, and the labyrinthine caves beneath it are rumored to be the jaws of Hell. The brooding and ambitious young doctor, with his height, aristocratic aura and stern countenance, blends into this Gothic setting as if he could be the reincarnation of a castle lord.

Influenced by his mentor Carl Jung, Dr. Kosárek hypothesizes that there is an archetypal Devil latent in all humanity, and he's eager to prove his theory by recording his sessions with the notorious murderers known as the Devil's Six, who are imprisoned in the asylum. "The Devil I believe in is no supernatural being," he says. "He is a natural force alive in us all --- and most alive in the violently insane. And because the Devil hides in the id's Shadow Aspect, his presence is often denied." Each member of this wicked sextet has an epithet: "the Vegetarian,” "the Woodcutter," "the Clown," "the Sciomancer," "the Glass Collector" and "the Demon." All of them claim that a diabolical being influenced their horrific crimes, which cover a broad macabre spectrum of rape, necrophilia and cannibalism.

"[F]ormer police officer and Scottish author Craig Russell weaves a complex, intriguing and intellectually stimulating thriller, exploring criminal psychology through the kaleidoscopic lens of Jungian archetypes and Slavic mythology."

Dr. Kosárek uses narcosynthesis therapy, a form of hypnosis employing sedatives, to uncover repressed memories. Describing his methods, Dr. Kosárek says, "Using hypnotic drugs means I can strip away the ego and reach deep into the unconscious. Once there, I can guide the patient to confront his or her own Devil Aspect and excise it." Obsessed with proving his "Devil Aspect hypothesis,” the ambitious doctor becomes increasingly reckless and unethical, sometimes administering potentially lethal injections of scopolamine and sodium amytal to his patients. After overdosing them to the threshold of death’s door, he revives them with picrotoxin, because he has discovered that "the Devil hides...on the edge of death."

Meanwhile, Kapitán Lukáš Smolák of the Prague Police is in hot pursuit of Leather Apron, a serial killer imitating Jack the Ripper. A bloody footprint at the latest crime scene leads him to an unlikely suspect and terrified eyewitness: a gypsy thief named Tobar Bihari, who claims that Leather Apron forced him to watch one of the murders. Bihari calls the perpetrator "Beng," a Romani name for the Devil, and describes him as wearing a blood-stained leather apron and a Perchten mask that resembles Krampus.

With some film noir-esque scenes of Kapitán Smolák chain smoking during a stakeout and policemen chasing a fugitive down foggy cobbled streets, it's no wonder that film rights for THE DEVIL ASPECT have been preempted by Columbia Pictures. In this American debut, former police officer and Scottish author Craig Russell weaves a complex, intriguing and intellectually stimulating thriller, exploring criminal psychology through the kaleidoscopic lens of Jungian archetypes and Slavic mythology. The threads of this intricately woven plot intersect in fascinating ways, as police medical examiner Dr. Václav Bartoš is the twin brother of one of the Devil's Six, and a glittering glass bead at the fourth crime scene leads Kapitán Smolák to Hrad Orlů to question the Glass Collector.

As Dr. Kosárek says, "The Devil lives hidden in us all," and he and Kapitán Smolák are psychologically complex characters with monsters lurking in the oceanic depths of their subconscious minds. Kapitán Smolák is a vegetarian because he was traumatized by witnessing his leather-aproned father slaughtering a squealing pig when he was almost 10 years old, and Leather Apron's gruesome butchering of women plagues him with nightmares. Dr. Kosárek’s younger sister drowned when she was seven, and a year later, his grief-stricken mother hung herself from a tree bough when he was 12. His mother's suicide gave him a claustrophobic dread of forests and inspired him to seek a cure for the melancholic mental illness to which she had succumbed.

As the tension in this book intensifies, the political tempest and collective madness of Nazi Germany looms in the background and infiltrates the asylum through two of the doctors, who wear Sudetendeutsche Partei pins. Any of the complex characters populating the novel could potentially be Leather Apron, and the forked tail of THE DEVIL ASPECT has a satisfying and brilliant twist at the end, tempting readers to return to the beginning.

Reviewed by Rachel McConnell on March 15, 2019

The Devil Aspect
by Craig Russell