Styx by Bavo Dhooge

9/10 Dark horror, despair and detection.

Belgium born Bavo Dhooge is an avid writer who has penned almost 100 novels, which uncannily have the letter S at the start of the title. A crime novelist by genre, he has won the Shadow Prize, the Diamond Bullet and the Hercule Poirot Prize, earning him the name as one of
the most honoured novelists in Belgium. Translated by Josh Pachter, Styx is the first novel Bavo has had published in English and starts out with a spate of murders that has got the locals ruffled as the killer mutilates the bodies, earning him the nickname, "The Stuffer" as he stuffs them with sand, making them into grotesque art installations for all to see.

The first time we see the killer, he is busy on the beach in Ostend, producing what he considers one of his artistic masterpieces. Though a lot is obvious to the reader: that he is a brutal, merciless killer; he believes he has a higher purpose in mind. He talks to himself as though he is communicating with a reporter, that his works are being exhibited in Ostend's Mu.ZEE art museum at its Beaufort 2006 open art exhibition where stakes had been created around the town. His newest installation is as bad as the rest, but by placing a sign beside the body he thinks it gives it have a different meaning: #3 In a Series: A Gift to All the Tourists Heading off For a Fun Day at the Beach. It's cruel, grotesque, but he sees it also as a way to convey his sick kind of humour.

You might think that the book's title, Styx, could be a reference to the river styx from Greek mythology, but as it's the character's name there could be a basis for comparison due to what happens later to the Chief Inspector who is brought to the crime scene on the beach. Here is a man who knows all about pain and can understand the suffering this and other victims have gone through at the hands of a dangerous and twisted serial killer. Styx is a man who is annoyed at his life. Being middle-aged he is also stuck in a mid-life crisis, a failed marriage and relations with his son are not going as well as he would like. He would think that with his links to the Belgian underworld, he would have a chance of catching the killer, but one meeting with the killer leaves him dead, murdered by a bullet to the chest, then a new life for him begins.

The first part takes place in the real world with Styx and his men, wife and all the troubles he bears on a daily basis. Styx is as devoted to catching the Stuffer as the Stuffer is to kill him. As
Styx's life is a mess, his wife his ready to get married to someone else and his health is getting worse. The Stuffer ending his life could be seen as a form of kindness, though even in death, Styx has to come back as a zombie to fulfil his duty to take the Stuffer down, though he has to contend with the cruel thirst he has for human flesh first.

With dark horror, despair and detection, Bavo Dhooge's Styx has to get used to his new afterlife by allying with Detective Joachim Delacroix, where he discovers an Ostend that never existed. With him in tow, he might find the Stuffer and be able to bring him to justice.

Styx is a story that deals with a man learning what it is to be human and try to be a better man even if he is a zombie.

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