Demon of the Air by Simon Levack

Demon of the Air book cover
Rating 8.5/10
It is easy to see why Levack has won a debut Crime Writers Award.

Simon Levack's first novel takes the ancient murder mysteries across the Atlantic into the world of the Aztecs and promptly opens with the inevitable human sacrifice that was so integral to their religion. What's good is that he gives us an explanation of why through a detailed recount of the Aztec origins of the world mythology before opening up the story with our sleuth literally hurling himself down the side of a pyramid after the bouncing body of a Bathed Slave after causing a fracas with the priests.

Within the next dozen or so pages Levack has also detailed the importance of providing a pure body for sacrifice and given an insight as to the social standings within Aztec society. So by the time our hero, Yaotl, slave to the Chief Minister is hauled before Montezuma to be coerced into solving the disappearance of a bunch of sorcerers from the Cuauhcalco prison, we have not only that plot but a good synopsis of the Aztec cultural knowledge needed for this novel. It is an impressive start.

The story unfolds as Yaotl finds himself hounded and threatened by all sides. His master, Black Feathers, orders him to Coyoacan to find out what has become of the sorcerers that have flown the prison. His trip there with Handy and his sons, Snake and Buck, reveal three murders and a saved young boy whom Handy and his wife Citlalli take in. In the meantime, Yaotl delves further into the family of Shining Light, the merchant who provided the Bathed Slave and comes up against his mother Lily and their connections to a thuggish Misty and his son Nimble. After a couple of episodes where Misty's intent to murder Yaotl becomes clear and Nimble's desperate prevention of it, another sorcerer body turns up in Black Feather's pond as Yaotl goes on the run from his master whom he feels is trying to give him to Misty.

An eventful game at one of the stadium (with an interesting aside as to the rules of the Aztec game) leads to Yaotl eventually garnering some truths from his brother Lion, Guardian of the Waterfront and highly respected warrior and the pair promptly go off (once Lion has discovered his participation in some murders was due to his duping by the duplicitous Black Feathers) to uncover the further truths behind Shining Light.

Yaotl comes up with a theory that is near the mark, but not quite enough to mean the eventually watery denouement on a parrot boat in the middle of the lake causes some further surprises as to the identity of Shining Light. However, Yaotl's expounding of his theory whilst in the arms of Lily does give Levack the chance to give us a detailed history of our protagonist. We learn of how he failed the annual priestly tests and ended up selling himself. We learn of his affair with Maize Flower and the enmity that developed with Telpochtli. Ultimately, it allows Yaotl to deceive himself, find out he has a son and uncover the truth behind the murders. Whilst the name of the murderer is fairly evident from early on, what is not is the motive and this is the true mystery throughout the novel.

It is easy to see why Levack has won a debut Crime Writers Award for this effort is markedly good and any further novels about Yaotl will be eagerly sought by this reader, at least.

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