The Devil in Amber by Mark Gatiss

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The Devil in Amber by Mark Gatiss

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Lucifer Box is a brilliant invention, as his first adventure and now this book testify. The global espionage regarding a Fascist leader and his plans is entertaining for thriller fans, and the comedy is still top-notch. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: July 2007
Publisher: Pocket Books
ISBN: 978-0743483803

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There is a part of me that gets annoyed when I find actors and other personalities getting books published. Not so much when they're awful tat - they're easy enough to avoid, but when they're really good entertainment it just riles me up.

Jealous or not, I'm still happy to read them.

The Devil in Amber is the second novel from Mark Gatiss from The League of Gentlemen, again featuring his hero Lucifer Box. Box really is the reason to read these books, as well plotted and intriguing as they are. He's handsome and knows it, talented and proud of the fact, and in his first person narrative just loves to tell you how rollicking his life as a secret agent has been.

Interestingly this book is set twenty years on from the first in the series, as if Gatiss is hedging his bets and allowing him to move on past Box at some point. This generation gap takes Box from the Edwardian era where he was so at home to start this book in Jazz Age New York. The age of side characters called Sal Volatile. The age of a fascist rouser whom Box is enployed to investigate.

This adventure follows The Vesuvius Club in delving into underground, occult and bizarre crimes, with a hint of the vicious, a touch of the macabre, and a dash of bisexuality. There is not enough of any aspect however to put anyone off.

The comedy touches are fine - especially the lead, Lucifer. He is one of the instances where the words enjoyably and contrived can be successfully put together. Whatever he does, the one person in the world who could help his mission's success will always fall into place at the right time - or, if he can help, into his bath with him.

Box has a great comic timing for his memoirs, but on the whole the events are played straight - and quite deadly serious at times. The thriller elements are played deadly serious here, and there are a couple of didn't-see-that-coming moments to be had.

This volume is not flawless - the trans-Atlantic voyage is a little over-long perhaps, making us forget the earlier thrust of the plot, which may be the point. We lose the quirky inventiveness of the secret services of the last book - where assignations were plotted in secretive public lavatory cubicles.

But we gain a delightful cameo from Mrs Croup halfway through, and although there is a couple of questionable elements to the plot the whole is great fun, jolly entertaining, and very easy to recommend to anyone, not just a thriller genre fan.

What I wouldn't recommend is reading the cover blurb, as it gives too many elements of the plot away for my liking.

My thanks go to the publishers for sending this to the Bookbag.

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Kerry said:

John this sounds huge fun! I had no idea who Mark Gatiss was before I read your review (and would have remained none the wiser) and agree that when they managed to turn out a spectacularly good read, it makes you wish they were quite so multi-faceted and blinkin' talented. Makes you feel a bit more mortal, no? I love the era it is set in and will, when released from reviewer duty, try to cram this one in. Maybe November when the baby is born....?

Mauri said:

It was a great idea for Gatiss to age his character for this second novel. It allows him to explore how the character copes with the realisation that he's not the top agent any more to examine how his view of the world has changed through his experiences especially those relating to the Great war. While this is still a funny book the overall feel of it is darker and the sense of loss by Box for both youth and friends is a prominent theme running through the story.