The Devil in Amber by Mark Gatiss

Rating 8.0/10
Perfect for those who like period spy stories with extravagant locations and a supernatural twist.

Lucifer Box - the gorgeous butterfly of King Bertie's reign, portraitist, dandy and terribly good secret agent - is feeling his age. Assigned to observe the activities of fascist leader Olympus Mons and his fanatical Amber Shirts in a snow-bound 1920s New York, Box finds himself framed for a vicious murder. Using all his native cunning, Box escapes aboard a vessel bound for England armed only with a Broadway midget's suitcase and a string of unanswered questions. What lies hidden in the bleak Norfolk convent of St Bede? What is 'the lamb' that Olympus Mons searches for in his bid for world domination? And what has all this to do with a medieval prayer intended to summon the Devil himself?

The Devil in Amber is the second novel in Mark Gatiss’ Lucifer Box trilogy, set 20 years after The Vesuvius Club and opening in 1920s New York. Lucifer Box is to the outside world an artist, but in reality he works as a spy and assassin for Her Majesty’s Government in plots that unfurl as a mixture of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Bond and Sherlock Holmes.

Box has been the top of his game for many years, but as middle age is kicking in younger and keener agents are eager to topple him. When a hit goes wrong and Box is side-lined with an investigation into a fascist organisation called the amber-shirts, double crossing means Box has to flee America and get back to England in an escalating situation that brings in supernatural rites and the release of incredible evil.

Both The Vesuvius Club and The Devil in Amber are based roughly on ‘real life’ events (The Hellfire Club and the fascist black shirts / Nazi occultism) but bring in a supernatural bent and a level of fantasy where villains, their machinations and their lairs come through like brightly coloured panels in a graphic novel, and I think both books would work very well in this format. Box is of course devilishly handsome, irresistible to both men and women (which he takes advantage of frequently), suave, sarcastic, and a mean shot. Plots thunder along like a Bond film, moving from gunning down people in New York to grappling in a cable car on a snow swept Swiss mountain, and it’s great fun. Box is likable enough as the main character, with the story told from his point of view. Yes, he is a bit shallow and the frequent beddings of characters that need barely more than a lazy smile before they surrender themselves gets a bit too Roger Moore for my personal taste, but it’s daft, hyper-real and often very funny.

If you like period spy stories with extravagant locations and a supernatural twist, I would highly recommend this series.

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