One Way or Another
Hellmaw: Soul Larcenist (Dagger of Sacrados, volume 1)
By Suzanne Church
Suzanne Church’s 2016 supernatural thriller Hellmaw: Soul Larcenist is book one in the Dagger of Sacrados Trilogy. It is set in Ed Greenwood’s shared universe, Hellmaw.
Called to the scene of a spectacularly brutal double homicide, protagonist Detective Sergeant Windsor Kane has no idea that she and her husband Davian are being stalked by the killer. By the time she does figure that out, she and Davian have been overpowered, kidnapped, and prepared for a slow, painful death.
Windsor escapes. Davian does not.
Even if Windsor had suspected that she and her husband were being stalked, it is likely that she would not have been able to avert catastrophe. Because she could have had no idea what sort of thing was pursuing her.
The Toronto police assumed that they were dealing with a homicidal lunatic. Videx is actually a demon, exiled from his home realm for terrible crimes. Trapped on Earth, he preys on defenceless humans while waiting for a chance to return home.
Windsor’s escape does not mean she is safe. It means she is an entertaining challenge for the shape-shifting demon. The perfect toy to wile away a few days. She poses no real threat to Videx … or so he assumes.
But Windsor has an ally. Her fellow officer Puck Rysem knows exactly who and more importantly what Videx is. He knows what the demon can do and how the demon can be hurt. Puck helps Windsor because he also has good reason to want Videx dead. Windsor is at first reluctant to trust Puck, but soon learns that he knows what he is doing. The team has some initial successes, but fails to definitively kill of the demon. Result: Videx adds Puck to his kill list.
Why does Puck know so much about Videx? He’s a demon himself.…
I began to suspect that this novel might be outside my comfort zone as soon as I got to the dismembered penis scene. Not to mention the other dismemberments.
My tolerance for graphic violence in fiction has been steadily declining — perhaps because there’s been so much of it. I was the wrong audience for this particular book (and probably for the whole series, although I am not going to check the other books to see).
At least the violence isn’t sexist. The protagonist’s spouse may be fridged early on, but the dead spouse is a husband, not the usual girlfriend, wife or mother. Women are horrifically murdered but so are men. As well, there is no suggestion that Videx’s victims somehow earned what happened to them with socially disapproved behaviour, like promiscuity, smoking or being the only African-American in the cast. This is a violent book but an egalitarian one that eschews victim blaming.
This did not make the violence more appealing to me.
OK, aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? Well … I suspect that more mayhem-tolerant readers may find themselves frustrated by the repeated, inconclusive confrontations between Videx and his prey. Videx has some huge advantages: a magical, soul-stealing dagger and the ability to appear as pretty much anyone he chooses. He succeeds in framing Puck for murder by slaughtering innocent bystanders. However, for some reason (probably plot-related) he never manages to kill Windsor and Puck . Nor can Windsor and Puck kill him. The Big Bad of an ongoing series is not going to die in the first book.
Church’s characters are engaging enough. My problems with the book were primarily violence and secondarily, pace and plot.
Hellmaw: Soul Larcenist is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).
Feel free to comment here.
1: Antagonists somehow unable or unwilling to just kill the protagonist already is a trope in no way unique to this book. I mean, it came up in Wednesday’s review and it’s the main reason why James Bond has not been mouldering somewhere at the bottom of a Jamaican swamp since 1958.