Well that wasn't what I expected at all. I was expecting a horror story along the lines of Constantine, but it was more of a gritty crime morality play.
Summary: Jack is a young cop, reeling in the aftermath of his well respected father's death and an internal affairs investigation that might just turn out bad for him. The only things he has going for him is a cop sergeant friend nearing retirement, Danny, and his beloved girlfriend Terry. Just when things couldn't seem any bleaker, he's ambushed and shot in the line of duty, and as his heart stops, he finds himself in hell. Fire and brimstone and demons hell. Talk about scared straight, he's now stuck with a dilemma: How to get rid of the evidence, save his soul, and stay alive - because the criminal he ripped off in the first place is hunting him.
As I mentioned, I read the synopsis and expected something far different, but I enjoyed it surprisingly well anyway. The supernatural part of the story is left open, it could be the delusions of a highly stressed man, still on heavy pain medication after a shooting. Or there really could be demons out to get Jack.
There's some heavy christian themes, but in an interestingly non-denominational way - Jack's father was some kind of protestant preacher, although exactly which isn't noted, a catholic priest who's also a clinical psychologist takes over his job and becomes important to Jack, and later we meet another priest, denomination not mentioned, who happens to be an ex army ranger, which makes for an interesting character - I would have liked to see more of him actually. All that aside, there's not too much in the way of preaching and what there is, is not particularly Christian. By which I mean, good is good, evil is evil, I like to think and doing the right thing is a tenet of most personal philosophies, so there's nothing particularly objectionable.
Outside the issues of good and evil, there's actually a solid crime novel here too. The author is a former policeman, so the actions of the MC read believably, as do the bits of procedure. Things like having a wounded cop guarded in hospital, having union reps present during questioning, mentioned as throwaway background details but they all build to give a believable picture. Other than demons, of course! The plot is tight, the writing is too, and the twists and turns make sense.
The one thing that didn't ring true is how self-aware Jack is. He did a bad thing, to get his dad's attention, which certainly happens, but how often does the perpetrator of the act realize this themselves? And in such a way that they can articulate it so very clearly to others? It would have rung just a little more true to me if the psychologist/priest had pointed out to him what he'd done. But that is a very small niggle in an otherwise surprisingly (for me at least) solid novel.
Disclosure: Free review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.
Recommended for: Modern crime fans willing to take a bit of a chance.
Not recommended for: People who are allergic to religion. Hard core horror fans (the horror here is too ambiguous to be truly terrifying for anyone other than the MC himself)