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HellCorp by Jonathan Whitelaw
HellCorp puts you on The Devil’s side – there’s a little bit of bad in all of us.
The Devil isn’t somebody that you’re supposed to like. In fact, you grow up, whether religious or not, being told that he is the embodiment of all evil, the very antithesis of what’s good, wholesome and holy. So you can imagine my surprise when I found myself not only smiling but ROOTING for The Devil in HellCorp.
As a lawyer, I’m used to the fast pace, cut and thrust, sharp suited and booted legal thrillers and crime. And while the likes of John Grisham are masters of their art, it’s actually quite refreshing to read something from a new author. Particularly in a genre that’s got so many doing so much great work.
HellCorp is a crime novel, but it’s got an awful lot going on around it too. At it’s core is a whodunit. The Devil is stripped of his powers, plonked onto earth and crammed into a human form that he can’t stand. You might even say that he’s being PUNISHED by a certain Man (and sometimes Woman) Upstairs – as God is often referred to. Old Nick longs for a holiday and to sip cocktails on the beach. But before he can get the sand between his toes he has to solve the mystery of a Glasgow chip shop owner who was attacked decades ago and has only now just died. It’s an unusual crime for an unusual detective.
Along for the ride is Dr Jill Gideon – a junior doctor who’s at the coalface of a modern day NHS. And she’s a modern day doctor who can more than handle herself in everything the dark and dirty underworld of crime novels can throw at you. I liked Dr Gideon and a few people I’ve spoken to who have read the novel agree with me. She’s a smart arse – the perfect foil for a character like The Devil who’s the ULTIMATE smart arse.
While the book is a crime and thriller mostly, it deals with other aspects and parts of the human condition too. It couldn’t really not – it shows the ugly side of humans and how The Devil snarkily takes credit for it all. Which brings me on to the big rad baddie who’s also the goodie.
Whitelaw has a knack for bringing out the best in the worst of his characters. And none more so than The Devil. He revels in his own misery and more importantly the misery of everybody else around him. Imagine being stuck on a long-haul flight with somebody who hates to fly but enjoys more than anything else complaining about WHY they don’t like to fly.
The Devil is also funny. He’s sharp-witted, fiercely intelligent and above all else he knows it. I know that doesn’t sound like an appealing mix. But there’s something quite liberating about reading a character, a central one at that, who quite literally doesn’t give a toss about anybody other than himself. He’s a caricature but one with more than a sliver of menace that actually makes it work. You’re not going to be surprised by The Devil’s actions – he’s still a loathsome, unscrupulous, seedy and selfish character. Yet he’s also endearing, approachable and somebody you become strangely attracted to. Evil walks and talks in HellCorp and it’s never looked so good.
And it’s not just The Devil. God, Gideon and the supporting characters (including a timid, golf club receptionist Saint Peter) are all given a full spectrum of colour and character. There are shades of grey to everybody – including the people who run the universe. And Whitelaw paints them beautifully, crafting everybody with as much love and dedication as the next. He quite clearly enjoys having a full pallet and cast at his disposal. Because they’re all put to some use, good or bad.
HellCorp has a fantastic story, a witty, black humour laden tone that ticks along at a brilliant pace. You can race through it on a plane journey (with said person in your ear) or take your time and savour all the little references to classical literature, modern culture and music. And there’s even a sneaky little teaser at the end that hints there might just be a little bit more in store for The Devil and his ethereal cohorts. For this reader, that would suit me just fine to see the old bugger back in action and, as the blurb says, up to his pitchfork in trouble!
(c) Adam Bennett
Order your copy online here.