RRP: VariesThe blurb for The Devil’s Workshop on Scherber’s site reads: An investment advisor falls 27 floors to his death in St. Paul. An auxiliary bishop is strangled in Houston. An art gallery owner dies in Santa Fe in the middle of the night. Their only link is an obscure painter living underground in Mexico, pulling the levers of a plan of revenge that goes back to the 1530s. Homicide detective Ken Abrams and mystery writer Rebecca Stuart unite to root out a plot so fiendish it could only have originated in The Devil’s Workshop. Beware what paintings you hang on your walls.
The Devil’s Workshop is a surprising book. For a long time I wasn’t sure I actually liked it but by the end I can honestly say I did – just not in a conventional manner.
I would like to start by saying I liked the writing – I found the narrative reminiscent of Bogart style gangster films and almost expected the hero to be wearing a trench coat and fedora for most of the story (he didn’t). There is something very solid about Scherber’s writing, although I’m not sure if that explains what I mean. Perhaps confident is a better word – this is not a writer begging you to love his story, this is a writer who knows his story and is putting it out there for you to do with what you will. I liked that. A lot.
I liked the plot – rather arrogant yet subtly insecure writer meets mid-life crisis detective (sans fedora)and together they must save her assistant – the geeky and self effacing Jeremy – from the clutches of a murderous group out to kill the descendants of a member of the 16th century Mexican aristocracy. They do this by entering the homes of the victims via paintings by a painter, Cantu.
I loved the premise – the Mexican arsticocrat found himself father to two ‘deformed’ children. Deformed mostly in aesethetic terms, the children were banished underground with tutors and carers – and where they soon ‘created’ a new line. The new line developed several new evolutionary traits that were passed down through the generations forcing the line to remain in exile – among them the painter. But times, as the great Dylan sang, they are a-changing….and the painter is not happy with being in exile and wants those above ground to pay.
So far, so good.
There were however two things I did struggle with.
The first was an editing issue and was really minor. There were a couple of places where there were shifts in tense, sometimes mid paragraph, or in point of view – that could easily be fixed. Nothing major – and not enough to stop me reading, but sufficient to be noticeable and it’s not impossible I’m simply being pedantic because I am by day an editor.
The other issue was the characters. I’m afraid I just didn’t like them. I didn’t like Jeremy, the assistant, and I really wanted to. Nothing beats the underdog rising to the top and showing everyone else how it’s done – just look at how popular The Big Bang Theory is – but I just found him to be too wishy washy. I didn’t especially like Ken, the hero, who should have been swooping in and saving the day but was busy having a midlife crisis and worrying about getting his butt kicked by a girl to do that. Rebecca Stuart, the heroine, not only kicks his butt, she saves it several times and I should have liked her. I would have liked her had she been somewhat less obnoxious and superior. Most of the time I wanted to tell her to get over herself. The one character I did like was Luisa, from the underground clan. I not only liked her, I found her very realistic – especially when she was angry.
That said, it’s not impossible to dislike huge chunks of a book and yet still like the whole and I have to say this turned out to be the case with The Devil’s Workshop. Although some questions were left unanswered – how did the small people get through the canvases, what was the significance of Ken’s dreams, and did Luisa survive, and what possessed him to name a character Bloodbath – that doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t believe all loose ends need to be tied off in a story – in fact I quite like it when we don’t get all the answers. When did life ever give all the answers? It works very well in this story, to not have everything tied up neatly.
If you’re looking for something that will make you think a little this is a good choice and I would like to read some more of Mr Scherber’s work since his imagination is certainly impressive and engaging.
Reviewed for The Kindle Book Review