I discovered Mike Carey because I reviewed a Jim Butcher book and someone suggested I’d like the Felix Castor series by Mike Carey. I’d never heard of Mike Carey, but I was out of new authors to read at the time and I was ready to try anything that sounded good. I got what I hoped for plus a whole lot more.
Mike Carey is not merely a good writer. He is what I would term hyper-literate. He uses words like a rapier. His prose is beautifully crafted, often lyrical, yet never treacly or sappy. He is crisp.
He actually uses words I have to look up because I don’t recognize them. It has been decades since I learned a new word. Sometimes I don’t know the word because it’s British slang with which I’m just not familiar, but sometimes, it’s a word I’ve never seen before.
He does not repeat himself. He never uses the same descriptive passage more than once, nor does he — as many popular authors do — copy and paste sections from one book to another to (I presume) save writing time. Mike Carey doesn’t use short cuts.
The result is a style that is richly descriptive, a delicious combination of gritty street slang banging head-on into literary English. Guttersnipe meets Jane Austen in the streets of Liverpool. It gives the narrative a rare and rich texture.
What’s it all about? Felix (Fix) Castor is an exorcist. He sees the dead and they see him. He uses a tin whistle to cast out the dead and send them wherever exorcism sends them, something about which Castor himself is not entirely clear.
The series consists of five books, each building on the previous one to form what is essentially a single story in five parts.
In order, the books are:
The Devil You Know
Dead Men’s Boots
Thicker Than Water
The Naming of Beasts.
None of the books are exactly a romp through a sunny day, but the first three books are significantly lighter in tone … and funnier — Carey has a sharp, ironic sense of humor– than the final two, which are quite intense.
Felix Castor is no two-dimensional wizard who magics his problems away with the wave or a hand or wand. He works hard for minimal money, is rarely thanked, has plenty of his own personal psychological demons, not to mention some very real, dangerous demons.
It’s a unique series, unlike any other I’ve read. I wish there had been more of them. If you like Harry Dresden, you will also like Mike Carey.
Although Jim Butcher’s Harry is a wizard, he is very different from Fix Castor. The two series share a “noir” feeling, a sense of gathering dark. Carey is less predictable than Butcher. About the only thing you know for sure is that whatever happens, it will never be as planned. Felix Castor is not a lucky guy, but he’s a hard worker and he never gives up.
There are so many surprises in the book. The characters constantly surprised me by growing and changing, developing in unexpected ways and not doing the obvious. Characters make unique choices and don’t take the obvious or easy way out.
Mike Carey can be very funny. His subtle and elegant humor contains no belly laughs, but irony pervades his prose. None of the books are traditionally funny nor are the situations humorous or light-hearted, but the author’s writing style is wonderfully cynical. The stories, pun intended, are dead serious. Darkness notwithstanding, you can count on Mike Carey’s plays on words and twists of phrase to keep the dread from becoming too heavy to handle.
The plots are gripping and creepy. Any or all of the books would make great horror movies. I’m surprised no one has grabbed them yet. Maybe they will. I hope so.
- CCI: Carey Wins an Inkpot & Teases “Frankie” on TV (comicbookresources.com)
- Mike Carey Writing New Series for Boom! (comicsbeat.com)
- Harry Dresden’s Magical Chicago (teepee12.com)
- 10 Book Series So Addictive, You Never Want Them to End (io9.com)