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Fisher of Devils

by Steve Redwood

(House of Dominion, $17.95, 278 pages, paperback, published 2003.)

Review by John Toon

If you're wondering why the Apocalypse didn't happen as planned at midnight, cover scanNew Year's Eve, 1999, the answer's right here. Corruption in Limbo, conservative extremism and underground liberalism in Heaven, God's family problems and terrible doctrinal mistakes: Fisher of Devils, your metaphysical National Enquirer, spills the beans and dishes out the gossip. Psst -- Archangel and Dark Lord in Love Triangle Shocker! And it all started back In The Beginning ...

There's a certain hand-rubbing, moustache-twirling fun to be had in taking aspects of Christian doctrine literally, applying mechanistic constraints to metaphoric concepts such as the Virgin Mary's bodily ascension into Heaven, or the Second Judgement. The film Dogma is probably the most notable recent example of this kind of japery. But just as Dogma featured Jay and Silent Bob, the living nob gags that permeate Kevin Smith's films, so the tone of Fisher of Devils is lowered by a quantity of what can best be described as schoolboy humour. The nearest literary equivalent I can think of is the Illuminatus! series of novels; if you got on well with the Shea/Wilson brand of lunacy, you'll probably do fine here, but if intellectual pogo-ing coupled with cheap laffs doesn't float your boat, perhaps you ought to stay in harbour.

The make-or-break is the first third of the novel, given entirely over to what is essentially backstory for the main plot. Here we're given the tour of the Garden of Eden, and shown God's greatest mistake -- Adam -- and His greatest achievement -- Eve. Predictably, there's gags to be had when God comes up with the idea of procreation; this is where the bulk of the juvenilia may be found. Come through this third of the novel smiling, and you're set for a 180-page story of surprising depth and emotional warmth. Prepare to meet St Darren, the deranged fundamentalist dead baby who wants to run Heaven the old-fashioned way. It falls to St Peter, the earthy ex-fisherman, to enlist some unlikely support to thwart his schemes. At no point does the prose drag, and the characters stay more or less on track throughout, but it does feel in retrospect as though the latter 180 pages were a reward for enduring the first 100. I don't mean to suggest that the novel's opening third is actually bad, but it can be trying at times.

As divine comedies go, Fisher of Devils is no Good Omens, but it does portend well for Redwood's future career. He's got the humour, the characterisation and the ideas -- all he needs is a little more self-control, and he could easily give the likes of Pratchett and Rankin a run for their money.

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