MEET FELIX CASTOR, EXORCIST BY MIKE CAREY

The Devil You Know | Mike CareyThere’s a rumor going around on Amazon that Mike Carey is going to publish another Felix Castor book. I hope it’s true. I’ll line up to be among the first to buy a copy. I love this series.

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 the undead. They see him. He is no wizard who magics his problems away with the wave of a hand or wand. He can send the dead away when they linger and cast out demons who possess humans.

Where do the dead go after he sends them away?  He’s not sure, an issue that looms successively larger as the series progresses. His weapon is music in the form of a tin whistle, a thin armament in the face of some of the perils he faces. He has a few allies — human, formerly human plus one demon in recovery.

The series consists of five books, each building on the previous one to form what is essentially a single story in five parts. Best to read the series in order. All the books are now available on paperback, for Kindle and as an Audible download.

In order, the books are:

  1. The Devil You Know
  2. Vicious Circle 
  3. Dead Men’s Boots
  4. Thicker Than Water
  5. The Naming of Beasts.

None of the books are exactly a lightweight romp through a sunny meadow, but the first three books are much lighter in tone  … and funnier — Carey has a sharp, ironic sense of humor– than the final two, which are pretty intense.

Mike Carey (writer)

Mike Carey (author) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fix Castor works hard for short money, is rarely appreciated by the people he helps, has more than enough of his personal demons, not to mention some very real, otherworldly demons who are seriously out to get him.

It’s a unique series, unlike any other I’ve read. I wish there had been more of them, though I suspect the author is done with this series.

There are so many surprises in this series. 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. Sooner or later, someone is bound to notice, right?

Sandman Slim, Richard Kadrey (2009)

Sandman Slim is fantasy, horror, and mystery, gift-wrapped in a deliciously witty package. It’s got the cast of characters from Heaven, Hell and every place in between. Enough zombies, in various flavors, to satisfy anyone’s enthusiasm for gore. Enough violence to get your heart pumping.

Cover of "Sandman Slim: A Novel"

The writing is sufficiently sophisticated, literate and sharp-edged that you have no doubt you are reading a book for grown-ups. This is no excursion into adolescent sparkly vampires. The undead are as far from cuddly as a bunny is from a crocodile.

The good guys aren’t particularly warm and fuzzy either. It’s a new perspective on angels and demons, good versus evil. The distinction between the good and bad guys is a matter of degree and ultimate intent. Both commit atrocities. It’s a matter of whose side you are on and what your final goal happens to be … and whether that’s evil or holy is a matter of opinion.

In Kadrey’s world, angels are as lethal as any of the bestial dead. Flaming swords or not, there’s nothing human or huggable about these heavenly hosts.

Meet Lucifer, Uriel and a few other big shots of the hereafter. Spend some time in Hell. Take a quick peek at Heaven.

Kadrey’s biting wit makes this first book and subsequent books in the series addictive. I read the first one, then hustled over to Amazon and bought the next two installments (Kill The Dead and Aloha From Hell).

It’s set in Los Angeles, but this is not your grandfather’s L.A.

Richard Kadrey

Richard Kadrey

“L.A.” says our hero, if indeed Sandman Slim can be classified as a hero, though he is indeed heroic, “is what happens when a bunch of Lovecraftian elder gods and porn starlets spend a weekend locked up in the Chateau Marmont snorting lines of crank off Jim Morrison’s bones. If the Viagra and illegal Traci Lords videos don’t get you going, then the Japanese tentacle porn will.”

In terms of hyper-literacy, Kadrey rivals Mike Carey, although these books are darker — and the Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books are very dark — and noticeably more violent. And gory. Jim Butcher on steroids and meth.

If fantasy is your genre and you don’t mind violent and gory, check these out. They aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they are extremely well-written and the perspective of God, Heaven, Hell and human life is sufficiently unique to hook me. I don’t usually like quite this much violence and am not especially into zombies … but these are good. Intense. Reeking of testosterone.

Midnight Riot, Ben Aaronovitch (2011)

London probationary constable Peter Grant hopes to become a detective, but his tendency to be distracted by details that others think are unimportant has landed him in the Case Progression Unit. That’s where the paperwork gets processed and where the biggest danger is a paper cut.

While collecting evidence from a crime scene, Peter finds an eye-witness who appears to be a ghost. This brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale. Nightingale is in charge of the secret police division that investigates crime involving the undead, magic, various deities or anything else that could be classified as weird.

Nightingale has always — and always turns out to be a long time indeed — worked alone, but incidences of the strange and bizarre seem to be increasing around town. Enter Peter Grant, the distractible cop with a natural ability to “sniff” vestiges of magic and the first official apprentice wizard in the history of the division.

I starting reading this on the recommendation of one of my readers. I’ve never been led astray by a reader’s recommendation and this was no exception. The is the first book in a series in which there are three books to date, but hopefully more to come.

I read a lot of mysteries and a lot of fantasy. Peter Grant is much more of a cop than he is a wizard, though that will probably change as the series progresses. In this first book, despite a strong magical theme, it is also a real cop thriller. There’s a lot of wonderful description about the life of a constable in the London metropolitan police. There’s even more background about growing up as a racially mixed, working class kid in London. Like whipped cream on a sundae, the book provides rich detail about everything from the social interaction of Londoners on the underground at rush hour, to architectural disasters and bomb craters … and the gods and goddesses who care for the streams and rivers of London. Lots about them.

Aaronovitch’s writing is witty — sometimes downright funny — and intelligent. His ironic humor keeps the book moving along at a brisk pace. Peter Grant feels very real. I feel like I’ve met him, would recognize him at a party. He’s got a history. He’s smart and intuitive, but also human. He makes mistakes and learns from them. He actually works at his job.

I didn’t just read the book, I also bought it from Audible and have listened to it twice. Once for the fun, and the second time to pick up details I might have missed first time around. There is a lot of detail. There’s humor, danger, magic and then there’s mood. Wherever Peter Grant goes, you are treated to a description so thorough you can pretty much see the whole thing … smell and taste it, too.

If you like audiobooks, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is a marvelous narrator. He has the knack of making the book and its characters come alive but being non-intrusive so you see the book in your mind and don’t notice the narrator at all. This is exactly as it should be when the narrator and the books are perfectly matched.

I’m enjoying the second book even more than the first. Peter has begun to have more self-confidence, both as a police officer and as a wizard. I can sense where the series is going and I’m glad to be going along for the ride.

If you’re looking for a new series, this is a good one! I have a feeling it’s going to get even better as it matures.

Daily Prompt: The Stat Connection – How to make friends and influence people

My most popular all time whiz-bang post was written during a five-minute commercial interruption of the 2012 première episode of Criminal Minds. Over a thousand hits came pouring in for that post plus another few hundred over the next few days and many more in the months since. It remains my highest drawing post. When the season première came around in England, I got 1400 hits in one hour.

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I always know when the episode is playing somewhere because each time it shows, anywhere on earth, in rerun or as a new series, I get another thousand or so hits. The last time was the middle of June when a rerun of the episode was on cable and I got just under 900 hits in about an hour and another 300 the next day. Sure does goose up those stats, eh?

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What have I learned from this? If you want to be popular, write about television shows and be lucky. Make sure Google puts you at the top of the search for that thing, whatever it is. Because that’s what drives them to me. Not my brilliant writing, not the extraordinary subject matter. I wrote a little piece quickly, without much thought, published it within a couple of minutes. It accounts for 10,111 total hits. I have no idea what kind of lesson to take from that. Do you? You may read it here: The FBI can’t do a simple Google search?

In second position for all time hits, with a solid showing of 5,043 hits is a joke about cell phones and Albert Einstein. I copied and pasted it from Facebook. It’s funny, but it’s not exactly a cogent, well-written commentary on the human condition. I’ve written shopping lists with deeper meaning. In the name of scientific inquiry, feel free to give this your full attention: The man who saw the future …

Finally in the number three position with 2,645 hits is a reblog of an article comparing two Olympus cameras, the PEN PL-5 and the PEN PM-2. It gets from 20 to 100 hits a day, every day since I published it about a year ago. Apparently if you are shopping for Olympus cameras, you are more likely to find me than the original author. The mystery of Google strikes again. You will enjoy this if you are buying a new mirrorless camera. The information is excellent and if I’d written it myself, I’d be prouder still: Olympus E-PL5 vs. Olympus E-PM2, a surprise. I bought the PM2, by the way. I already owned the PL-1 and P3.

There is no connection between these posts other than they hit the public fancy and placed well on Google’s search engine. One was written by someone else, another is a well-known Internet joke, and third comments about a popular TV show and involves hunting serial killers. What it proves to me? Popularity has little to do with good writing, meaningful subject matter, or even good taste. Taken by themselves, statistics are worse than meaningless: they are deceptive. If you can find another interpretation, I’m all ears.

Rarely are your best efforts your most popular posts. So far, never. The pieces of which I’m the most proud often languish unnoticed while articles written in haste with little thought, but about popular subjects do very well. On the rare occasions when a piece I’m genuinely proud of does well, I glow.

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Meanwhile, by dint of working really hard at finding interesting, entertaining and valuable subjects to write about, I’ve got almost 85,000 hits, more than 400 followers, about 1200 posts and Word Press has never found a single thing I’ve written or photographed worthy of being Freshly Pressed. Not a single picture or post. That boggles my mind too because I’ve read a lot of the freshly pressed material and can’t remember any of it. It was smooth reading and totally forgettable. Maybe I’m trying too hard.

Some days I wonder why I bother? I could just go find stuff on the Internet and reblog it and get fantastic numbers. But then I slap myself on the face and remind me I don’t do it for the numbers or even for the recognition, though I certainly wouldn’t mind positive input.

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I do it because I love it. The writing, the photography, the relationships. I really, truly love it. So until I just wear out and give up from sheer exhaustion, I guess you are all stuck with me.

Other recent top entries, many of which are informational and/or technical should not surprise me because I was a technical writer for 35 years and I write a good reference stuff. After all those years, you’d figure I’d have a grip on that, at least. So here’s a list of my most popular posts (not in order, but overall hit count showing). Within the list are contain some pieces I think are pretty good. Well-written and containing interesting or useful information, or just an opinion I’m glad someone found worth reading.

Why tablets can’t replace computers. And why they shouldn’t. (301 hits)

Amazon Kindle Fire 7-Inch HD: 13-months later (369 hits)

The Felix Castor Series, Mike Carey (359 hits) 

How many states are trying to secede? (843 hits)

Things that go bump in the night (354 hits)

Gazing through to the other side: Hollywood and Moral Character (751 hits)

Where do the swans go? (334 hits) (photo gallery)

Old Coney Island Impressions (306 hits) (photo gallery)

Nothing ties these articles together. Not theme, style, subject matter. The only thing they share is (with two glaring exceptions) the author — me. What should I make of this? You tell me. I don’t like any of the conclusions I draw.

Harry Dresden’s Magical Chicago

Storm Front: The Dresden Files, Book 1 | Jim ButcherI was feeling a bit forlorn after I completed Mike Carey‘s Felix Castor series until Harry Dresden tapped me on the shoulder and invited me into the world created for him by author Jim Butcher. As I read my way through the entire series, 14 books to date with more on the way, I felt I’d found a perfect combination of gumshoe and wielder of magic. Everything I enjoy most in fantasy is in this series. Harry is a wise-ass, witty guy. And smart, sometimes too smart for his own good.

Grave Peril (novel)

Grave Peril (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Harry is a powerful wizard. He takes on challenges that should kill him, sometimes almost do and arguably have done so at least once , yet he is ever on guard to protect his city and the whole human world against the forces of darkness. A man with great power, he also packs a gun because magic is great stuff, but sometimes, there’s nothing quite like bullet to get the job done.

He’s witty, funny, sentimental, and foolhardy, prone to give the benefit of a doubt to the wrong people and end up paying heavily for being nice. He’s loyal to a fault and hates following rules. He’ll protect those he loves at the cost of his own life and soul. If your back’s to the wall, Harry’s the guy you want at your side.

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard. He’s listed in the Yellow Pages. Look him up. He doesn’t do kids’ parties.

For nearly a year, as I read my way through the earlier books in the series, I was entirely engrossed in Harry Dresden’s world. Eventually, much to my chagrin, I realized I’d reached the end of the already-published books. When I finished Ghost Story and Changes, I knew I’d reached the series’ turning point. I moped for a while, but I had to trust the author’s ability to bridge the changes in story and characters with his usual skill. When Cold Days was released, Jim Butcher had indeed moved the series to a new level. Harry was back, better than ever with power to spare. It isn’t the “old Harry.” It’s a wiser, more temperate Harry.

Harry has seen the other side. He no longer acts as if he is invulnerable. He knows he can win the day yet lose his life … and life is more precious to him than before. Holding the title of Winter Knight, Champion of the Winter Fae (Mab’s realm), he has great power for good or evil. He will be a knight like no other before him. Which is good because a war is shaping up. The lines are forming. Harry holds a unique position as the fulcrum of forces in this great battle to destroy or preserve the world as we know it.

Ghost Story: The Dresden Files, Book 13 | [Jim Butcher]To say this is a wonderful series doesn’t quite cover it. There are many series in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Some are so lightweight they float away and you can’t remember anything about them at all. Some are pretty good, others even better. A few are great. This fits nicely into the “great” category.

But why? you ask.

Fantasy series and stories are not known for complex, multi-dimensional characters .  Heroic, powerful and brave no doubt, but when you read a lot of books in this genre, you usually know what’s going to happen long before it does. Harry and his crew are unpredictable. They grow, they change, they develop. They form relationships. The mourn their losses, celebrate their victories. They go through hard times and if they survive, are changed.  They are magic-wielding wizards or some other magical being, but emotionally they are like people you might know, if you include in your circle people who can cast spells to blow up a city block or reanimate a Tyrannosaurus Rex. None of my friends can do that — as far as I know — but they probably wouldn’t tell me if they could. The world of magic is secretive.  Sometimes, if I’m feeling whimsical, I imagine Harry and a few of his pals settling in Uxbridge. Their secrets wouldn’t stay hidden for five minutes.

I read most of the series as audiobooks, but some in print too and a few of them in both formats. I own the last four or five in hard cover because there is something yummy about a fresh, new hardcover. I don’t read the hard covers: I just savor them. I line them up on my shelves in pristine splendor, then I read them on my Kindle. The entire series is available in paperback, if that’s your preference.

Following is the full series to date in order. Although you do not have to read the first few books in order, if you have a choice, it is easier to follow that way. As you progress in the series, you really can’t read the later volumes out-of-order if you want them to make sense.  Harry grows and changes a great deal from the first book on. He’s barely a kid when it starts, but he is all grown up by the time he arrives at Cold Days.

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Although the series is mostly fun, there is a serious undercurrent. Butcher has put a good deal of thought into the nature of good and evil, the choices we make and price we pay for these choices. Life in the real world is never black and white, nor is it in Harry’s world. It is in the gray areas that Harry operates; rarely are his choices  purely good or evil. His life is complicated and the complexities make the stories more interesting. This is one of the very rare series where I don’t always know what’s going to happen before I read it.

Jim Butcher is a fine writer. The stories are witty and charming. It isn’t all darkness and violence. Dialogue is snappy and intelligent. There are no dummies on Harry’s team.

The  Dresden Files:

Book 1: The Dresden Files – Storm Front

Book 2: The Dresden Files – Fool Moon

Book 3: The Dresden Files – Grave Peril

Book 4: The Dresden Files – Summer Knight

Book 5: The Dresden Files – Death Masks

Book 6: The Dresden Files – Blood Rites

Book 7: The Dresden Files – Dead Beat

Book 8: The Dresden Files – Proven Guilty

Book 9: The Dresden Files – White Night

Book 10: The Dresden Files – Small Favor

Book 11: The Dresden Files – Turn Coat

Book 12: The Dresden Files – Changes

Book 13: The Dresden Files – Ghost Story

Side Jobs: Stories From The Dresden Files

Book 14: The Dresden Files – Cold Days

Changes: The Dresden Files, Book 12 | Jim ButcherIf you are a fan or a writer, the video that follows is a comprehensive interview with Jim Butcher during which he answers  many questions about what’s going on in the Dresden universe and what is likely to come in the future. The interview took place shortly the release of Cold Days in November 2012. Unlike other interviews, this one is well recorded and you can hear the questions and Jim’s answers. It runs a bit more than 45 minutes It’s a great interview and well worth your time.

The insights are not only into Harry Dresden‘s world, but into the world of the author. For me, as a writer, I’m always fascinated by how authors do what they do, how they figure out which characters are going to be prominent in this book (or the next). How they inspire themselves to keep producing day after day and in the case of Jim Butcher, producing high quality work fast.

No two authors work the same way. As many authors as I’ve listened to, corresponded with, read about, each is unique. What inspires one would drive another crazy. You’ll learn a lot of interesting stuff in this interview. Jim Butcher is witty and articulate and offers genuine insight into his work.

This interview does not answer the burning question “Are Harry and Molly going to get it on?” Sorry. You’ll have to wait for the answer with the rest of us. However, if you watch the video, you will learn a lot about Harry, how he got to be the way he is, and where he and his friends are going. If you are a writer, the detailed explanations of Jim Butcher’s writing process are priceless.

Jim Butcher – The Dresden Files – The Series

Dead Beat: The Dresden Files, Book 7 | Jim ButcherI was feeling a bit lost after finishing Mike Carey‘s Felix Castor series. I wandered sad and alone through the empty halls of literature until Harry Dresden tapped me on the shoulder and invited me into the world created for him by author Jim Butcher.

As I read my way through the entire series,13 books to date with at least one more on the way, I felt I’d found a perfect combination of great gumshoe, mystery, and magic.

Everything I enjoy most in fun reading is in this series. Harry is a wise-ass, joke cracking, funny guy, reminding me a little of Spenser, And Harry is smart … sometimes too smart for his own good.

Grave Peril (novel)

Grave Peril (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Harry is an amazing and very powerful magician who takes on challenges that should kill him and sometimes almost do. He’s sentimental, foolhardy, prone to give the benefit of a doubt and end up paying heavily for so doing. He’s loyal to a fault and hates following rules.

He’ll protect his loved ones at the cost of his own life and soul and if you want someone on your side, Harry’s your guy.

He believes magic is wonderful, but should be used only for good, and in a pinch, a high-caliber gun is a pretty good alternative. Magic takes time and energy, so keep your pistols loaded and bring artillery.

For nearly a year, Harry Dresden.He has kept me happily entertained.

Although not my absolutely favorite fantasy series (Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series holds that honor), it is in my top five. I have enjoyed every single one of these books.

The current last one — Ghost Story — is quite different than previous ones … and for a while, I felt like I’d wandered into the wrong series. But Butcher is a fine writer and skillfully brings you back to the Harry you know and love, albeit a more subdued, thoughtful … as well as sadder and wiser … version of himself. The end caught me by surprise, though really, when I thought about it, it shouldn’t have. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I will say that the end was perhaps both inevitable and highly appropriate. I just didn’t see it coming.

Butcher left room to continue the series  and apparently, the next book should be available within a few months. Yay..

Ghost Story: The Dresden Files, Book 13 | [Jim Butcher]This is a great series. It’s fun, there’s violence, crazy monsters, complex characters who are evil, but rarely entirely so, and good characters who have flaws. The landscape comprises many shades of grey — with some notable exceptions. There are a few totally evil characters and some nearly perfect good guys.

Harry Dresden is well-intentioned, but far from perfect. He travels a long way from one end of the series to the other.

All things come to an end, but I would be glad for a bit more time to hang with Harry Dresden.

I have read most of the Harry Dresden books as audiobooks, but a few, because I didn’t care for the narrator, on my Kindle. They are all available as paperbacks, Kindle, and audio, so you can take you pick and read them in whatever format you prefer … or whatever is convenient.

Following is a list of the entire series in order. You do not have to read them in order, though it does make it easier to follow. I didn’t start with the first book, but after that, I went back and started from the beginning.

Harry grows and changes a great deal from the first book onward. He’s barely a kid when it starts, but he is far from a child by this book where he finally has to confront his mortality and make a serious choice about his values, and his soul.

Harry is human and though he can control magic, is not immortal or invulnerable. He can die. He can be seriously injured. He makes mistakes. Quite a few of them, actually and he does his best to fix what can be fixed. His friends, lovers, and the whole array of human and non-human characters that are part of his world are fully developed and with each book, you find out more about them and understand them better.

The series is mostly good magical fun, but there are serious and thoughtful areas concerning the nature of good and evil and the choices we must make. It is never black and white. It is within the gray areas that Harry operates most of the time and his choices are inevitably complicated. It makes him and the stories more interesting, but it also makes his life much harder.

Storm Front: The Dresden Files, Book 1 | Jim ButcherBook 1: The Dresden Files – Storm Front

Book 2: The Dresden Files – Fool Moon

Book 3: The Dresden Files – Grave Peril

Book 4: The Dresden Files – Summer Knight

Book 5: The Dresden Files – Death Masks

Book 6: The Dresden Files – Blood Rites

Book 7: The Dresden Files – Dead Beat

Changes: The Dresden Files, Book 12 | Jim ButcherBook 8: The Dresden Files – Proven Guilty

Book 9: The Dresden Files – White Night

Book 10: The Dresden Files – Small Favor

Book 11: The Dresden Files – Turn Coat

Book 12: The Dresden Files – Changes

Book 13: The Dresden Files – Ghost Story

Side Jobs: Stories From The Dresden Files