Hell's Fire by Chris Simms

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Hells' Fire by Chris Simms

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Paul Curd
Reviewed by Paul Curd
Summary: Satanists have been burning down local churches and now people are being murdered. A disappointing fourth outing by DI Jon Spicer in a novel in need of a good editor.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 320 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Orion
ISBN: 978-0752889313

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Three local churches have been torched in as many weeks. Evidence of satanic rituals has been discovered in the smoking remains of each one. The Christian community are outraged and media interest reaches national levels. When the fourth church is burnt down the Greater Manchester Police pass the case to DI Jon Spicer and his colleagues in the Major Incident Team. The priest of this particular church tells DI Spicer about several other recent incidents, possibly involving homeless people and youths. When the smoke has cleared, a charred corpse and satanic symbols are found in the ruins of the church, and the series of arson attacks take on an even more sinister angle – suspected human sacrifice.

At the same time, Spicer's younger sister Ellie announces that she has started to follow the Pagan way of the Wicca, despite their Catholic mother's assertion that Wiccans are actually witches, and Wicca was a religion that would lead followers straight to Hell. Ellie, it seems, has been introduced to Wicca by a friend who works at a New Age shop and is determined to join her new friend's coven.

Spicer thinks his sister's decision is some form of retaliation against their mother for making Ellie and her other brother go to Sunday school as kids (Spicer himself was excused Sunday school thanks to rugby practice). Of the three siblings, it is only Spicer – the one who didn't go to Sunday school – who has turned out relatively normal. Their brother has disappeared into the world of the homeless.

Meanwhile, Spicer's wife is trying to persuade him that they should send their daughter Holly to the happy clappy Church of England nursery because of its links to the better primary and secondary schools in the area. In case you hadn't guessed, this a book that has a lot to say about religion, and about Christianity in particular.

Pretty soon, Spicer links the church attacks to a local Death Metal band, Satan's Inferno and the sinister bandleader who has the name of a hell hound and an inverted cross tattooed on his forehead. His investigations are helped and hindered by a representative of the God Squad, a man with a too-severe side parting and an anorak, who believes his son has been sacrificed to the Devil by the Satanists. There's also the New Age shop his sister frequents, with its links to a newly-opened college called the Psychic Academy and its sinister Academy Head, Tristan Arkell. And a sprinkling of other priests, bishops and New Age Wiccans.

I'm afraid I found the author's treatment of his religious theme unsubtle and heavy-handed. But I persevered, because I had really enjoyed Chris Simms' first novel in the DI Spicer series and the next two books in the series were equally well received by Bookbag reviewers. Unfortunately, in this reviewer's opinion, Hell's Fire just isn't in the same league.

The coincidence of Spicer's sister suddenly becoming a Wiccan, at precisely the same time as a group of Satanists appear to be on the loose, placed far too much strain on my credulity. Worse, the terribly contrived intra-family didactic dialogue, exploring issues around religious belief and explaining the differences between white witchery and black magic (and Christianity) turned me off completely. At times I felt I was reading little more than the author's research notes. At the end of the first DI Spicer novel, Simms included a note referring to the swathes of references cut from that novel by his editor. A similar approach to this novel would have benefited it immensely.

If you don't mind a slow build up, and don't mind being given lots of background information that has little direct impact on the story, then you may not share my difficulties. Certainly, as the novel moves towards its climax, Simms does begin to ratchet up the tension very effectively. The true villain is revealed, the pace builds, and there is a breath-taking finale that was almost worth the earlier struggle to get to.

One of the things I really liked about Simms' earlier work was the way he brought his male characters to life. For me, none of the characters in this book stepped off the page. In fact, few if any of them came across as anything more than cartoonish stereotypes. This may be because the reader sees them, mostly, through Spicer's cynical eyes. It may be because Simms was trying too hard to write a book about religion and the effects of religion, rather than a crime 'story' with religion as its theme. It may simply be that my own personal prejudices got in the way. Whatever the reason, I'm afraid I struggled with this book.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For another crime novel where the occult is involved we can recommend The Edge by Clare Curzon or in General Fiction The Devil in Amber by Mark Gatiss.

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Buy Hell's Fire by Chris Simms at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hell's Fire by Chris Simms at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Hell's Fire by Chris Simms at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hell's Fire by Chris Simms at Amazon.com.


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Marilyn Darné said:

I fully agree with the comments you made about Hell's Fire, which is the first and only Chris Simm's novel I have read. The amount of blasphemy and anti-Christian remarks also turned me off the book. Isn't it amazing that authours only EVER use the name of Jesus Christ as a swear word...not Buddah, Allah or Krishna. Why is that I wonder ? I am not sure I want to read any more of his books and have even emailed him with my comments.....though I doubt seriously he will be affected in any way by what I, or other Christians, think. He's clearly anti-Christian and especially anti-Catholic. I am a Protestant, but still found his remarks about the Church were over the top.