P D Dawson
Poison City by Paul Crilley (Book Review)
The first thing the dog does when I walk through the door is sniff the air and say, ‘You forgot the sherry, dipshit.’
The opening line of Poison City, Paul Crilley’s debut novel written solely for adults, more than hints at the fact that this is a novel not to be taken too seriously. Crilley has written for many different genres and mediums over the past seventeen years, from television and comic books, to young adult novels, but this is apparently breaking new territory for him.
The front cover of my advanced proof copy has a line that reads, ‘He has a wand. But don’t you dare call him Harry Potter.’ This is perhaps clever marketing, a way of drawing in those grownup Harry Potter fans, and lets face it, that’s an awfully big market, but believe it or not, I’ve never read a word of Harry Potter, so I’m afraid I can’t say if this novel would satisfy that particular demographic.
The story is told through the first person narrative of Gideon Tau, but everyone calls him London Tau. He has a dog who is his guide, and early on we discover this dog not only likes to drink lots of sherry, he also talks and says exactly what’s on his mind, no matter how politically incorrect. Tau works for Delphic Division, a secret division within the South African Police Service that investigates the occult, or anything out of the ordinary, a kind of X-Files if you like.
The story takes place in Durban, South Africa, where there is the world of the Dayside and the Night. In the Dayside things are pretty normal and familiar, but the Nightside is the home of the occult where the orishas, vampires and demons hang out, among other strange incarnations. Tau often handles cases where those from the Nightside are causing a threat to the safety of those in the Dayside. Armitage, Tau’s boss, who is a rather fierce but likeable woman in charge of Delphic Division, receives the news of a brutal murder thought to be committed by someone from the Nightside. The victim is a ramanga, basically a vampire, so both Armitage and Tau head out to investigate why it was killed by one of its own.
This case does indeed turn out to be very revealing. Each step of the way, Tau finds himself in increasingly hard to escape scenarios and the ramifications of his actions, and of the threat facing the city of Durban, creates a thrilling chase for the truth that eventually leads to the one thing that has plagued him day and night for years, and that is the name of his daughter’s killer. But of course that’s not all that is at stake. The safety of the world, and of the Dayside, may ultimately rest in his hands with a simple choice, one that might just prove to be too much for Tau. Will he make the right choice? Will he choose love over the fate of the world?
Poison City is a splendidly written novel that never takes itself too seriously, and is full of invention and imagination. I love the idea that there can be a being that swallows others’ sins, that Tau’s own tattoos can turn into dragons and help him out of a fight, that he has a talking dog, and further into the book, the fact Crilley has the courage to turn the bible on its head and reimagine not only the limits of human's existence, but to also extend that into new and unique theories on Gods and angels.
But of course this is only fiction, and those things are only good if they are both believable and fun, and I think Crilley just about pulls it off. There were times towards the end of the story when the action, though varied, got a little Hollywood clichéd, and read more like a film than a mystery woven with fresh fabric, but give him credit, he has made some likeable characters with this story, and has managed to end it both in a satisfying way, and with a little dangling carrot of unfinished business. This sets it up nicely for the next in the series, and who knows how successful this series will be, or how far it can go? All I can say is with this first instalment; it’s off to a pretty good start, if not quite yet on fire.
Poison City is released by Hodder & Stoughton on, 11th August 2016. I received this proof copy for free from a goodreads giveaway, in return for this unbiased and honest review, according to FTC guidelines.