The Devil Aspect

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

This was a fascinating, complex tail. As someone who usually skim reads pretty quickly this was not my usual type of book, it was not a book suited to fast reading. The story covers a lot of characters but each of them have a unique place in the story and they are all so well written that it isn’t confusing.
The Devil Aspect is a mix of horror, crime, psychology and history. As well as following the psychologist as he attempts to prove his theory, we also hear from the police as they attempt to prove that a killer is real and not some spectre. I really enjoyed the setting of the book. The comparison between the city and the remoteness of the mountains where the criminals where hidden was fascinating.

This was a gripping and twisted story that will keep you awake long after you finish it.
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Fantastic Gothic horror set in Czechoslovakia. Atmospheric and haunting - a real page-turner! I'll be seeking out more by Mr Russell!
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A historical crime/thriller with some supernatural elements. I found this a little slow initially but it really picks up from about halfway through. I really liked the Slavic mythology, much of which was new to me.
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This will go live on 27 April.


Viktor is the new resident psychiatrist in an asylum housing the foulest of criminals, who are aptly nick-named the Devil’s Six. Viktor not only wants to treat these criminals, he also wants to experiment on them, because he’s desperate to isolate the Devil Aspect: he believes that the Devil is not a supernatural being, but rather a natural force that lives in people. But because this force is hiding, people often don’t realise it’s there and so they don’t remember their violent actions. Viktor believes that if he can find where the Devil hides, he can reach him and bind him, thus healing the patient. Well that’s ambitious to say the least! I’ve always been fascinated by the human mind, especially the criminal mind, so I was very curious to find out where the story would take me.

This psychological aspect is a very important one. There’s quite a lot of mention of Jung and his theories, and while it never felt like an information dump, I do feel you need to be interested in psychology and psychiatry, if only a little bit, to be able to enjoy this novel.

Besides the psychological angle, another important aspect of the story is Eastern European folklore, myths and legends. Again, these elements are neatly woven into the story, but again, I do feel you need to be at least a little bit interested in those to really appreciate this novel.

A third, and perhaps the most prevalent, aspect of this novel is horror. There’s the mystery of Leather Apron who brutally kills his victims and we’re also taken back to certain events and actions that earned the asylum’s residents the nickname of the Devil’s Six. Certain scenes are chilling to the bone. But then, what did you expect from a story about the Devil’s Six?! Sometimes there’s blood and gore, but sometimes there’s just this unspeakable evil and you guys, at times I was truly terrified! A large part of that was also the gothic setting, which was absolutely brilliant. An old, remote castle overlooking a small village, turned into an asylum for the criminally insane? It doesn’t get more atmospheric than that! The era it’s set in is equally well-chosen: at the dawn of WWII, what better times for a story about the evil that dwells in mankind?

Overall I found this a very intriguing, atmospheric novel that made me ponder human nature and the criminal mind. However, it didn’t always grip me as much as I’d thought it would and, despite my interests in its various topics and aspects, The Devil Aspect made for rather dense and heavy reading, it felt like I was making slow progress. However, I do feel it was well worth my time and efforts!

In terms of the Leather Apron mystery, The Devil Aspect only gives up its secrets in its last fifty pages. Was I taken by surprise? Not entirely, I did suspect who Leather Apron was, but nevertheless, I felt it was cleverly plotted and I really enjoyed the ride.

Many thanks to Little, Brown Book Group and NetGalley for the free eARC. All opinions are my own and I was not paid to give them.
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The most famous serial killers in Czechoslovakia are kept in a remote asylum in the countryside.  The asylum is a castle with a reputation for evil and since the 'Devil's Six' have been housed there the rumours in the local area have intensified.  Dr Victor Kosarek is excited to be going to work there and to use a new technique to try to get inside the minds of the millers.  Meanwhile in Prague a killer is mutilating his female victims in a way reminiscent of the killings in London half a century previously.  As the far right gain more power in Europe a different evil is on the move.
As a simple psychological novel this book is fairly predictable but still enjoyable.  However two things make it stand out, firstly the links to psychological experimentation and the philosophies of such as Freud and Jung, and secondly the consideration of what evil actually is.  The latter is handled with real sophistication, linking Slavic folklore to events involving Jack the Ripper and finally hinting at more regarding the Nazi policies.
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The blurb for The Devil Aspect was certainly intriguing enough for me to want to read the book. I felt it started strongly with the young doctor leaving Prague for his dream job (and everyone else's nightmare) of working with six of the worst and most dangerous criminally insane patients in an asylum housed in a remote castle stronghold. When he was attacked at the station, I thought it would be a good sub-plot. But it simply fizzled out. 

There was plenty that I liked about the book: the Gothic castle, Prague and the Czech countryside as settings; the distinctions between the different ethnic groups within Czechoslovakia at the time and which languages they used as a mark of status; rising tensions within Central Europe and the early signs of the rise of the Nazi party; the use of Czech folklore was a particular embellishment I enjoyed. And I admired Victor's concern for his friend which kept drawing him back to Prague. 

What was less appealing were how the female characters were either weak or victims here. I also smarted at the killer being a Jack the Ripper copycat. I didn't find the experiments lived up to their promise for revelations and conflict and early on in the book when I could see where this was all leading us, I hoped that I would be proved wrong. When I wasn't, it was a huge disappointment. Not one for me, I'm afraid.
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Set in Czechoslovakia in 1935 the Devil's Aspect cleverly combines a gruesome murder mystery with psychological theory while delving in detail into a history and a place I knew very little about. It asks the question of what is it that drives someone to do evil things. Does everyone have the potential for both good or evil or is there some kind of external force that can drive someone to commit the most horrific of crimes? 

It truly is a fascinating read as in addition to exploring the various psychological theories I feel like I also discovered so much about Eastern Europe in the period just before the first world war. I have to confess my knowledge of this time (and place) is almost non existent but through this story it seemed like the author truly brought it to life. Capturing the melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities and religions as well as the ever present threat of the Nazi's and the knowledge of what's to come. It makes for a truly ominous setting.

Add to that an asylum set in a castle that would give Dracula's a run for its money in terms of its history and the superstitions surrounding it and a killer who seems to imitating Jack the Ripper and you have a dark, disturbing and often grotesque read with a gothic feel to it. 

The story itself is told primarily from the point of view of two men. The first, Victor is a psychiatrist who takes up a position at an asylum made infamous for homing the six most feared serial killers in Czechoslovakia. He hopes through treating them to find evidence on his theory of the devil aspect, a common link that can explain why they committed such heinous crimes. The second pov is that of Smolak, Kapitan of detectives in Prague who is leading the hunt for a brutal murderer leaving bodies all over Prague. 

The narrative flips back and forth between the two men as we discover more about them and their work before the threads slowly start to come together and Smolak finds that Victor may be able to help him catch this new serial killer before the body count grows higher.

I have to admit I found myself more drawn to Smolak's story than Victor's. Victor's does have a bit of a Silence of the Lambs feel to it as he interviews each of the serial killers residing in the asylum, learning the details of the crimes they committed and trying to identify the reason behind it. However, while I did find the stories of the killers compelling I'm not wholly convinced the level of detail or psychoanalysis was necessary. I also found Victor a little on the frustrating side as his determination to prove his theory leads to some reckless and dangerous actions.

Smolak was for me the more likeable of the two, he has this world weariness to him but never judges things at face value or jumps to the easy answer. I found his investigation into the murders of several women by a killer known only as Leather Apron to be fascinating. He's very methodical in his approach and despite an ambitious deputy who seems determined to push him out he doesn't go for the quick or the easy. It was also wonderful to explore the Prague of that time with him as he travels around the city, visiting crime scenes and following up leads.

The mystery itself is very well done with the author leaving little hints and clues along the way as to who the culprit may be while also throwing in the odd red herring to throw you completely off track. I did guess pretty early on who the killer was, I've read a lot of similar type mysteries, but the story was no less gripping for it and there were still a few little surprises in store along the way. 

If I had one main criticism of this book however it's that I found it a little on the slow side. With the level of detail needed around the history of the time, the place, the people and psychology it's unlikely it could ever have been a fast paced, edge of the seat read but there is the odd occasion where I felt there was more detail than needed (although this is probably a personal taste thing). As a consequence it fell a little short of the terrifying read promised, although it is often chilling and disturbing.

Overall I'm very glad to have read this truly fascinating and often disturbing story. I would recommend to anyone who likes historical crime fiction.
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I read quite a lot of thrillers so it takes a lot for a book to standout as being truly exceptional and unique. The Devil’s Aspect is just that as not only is it a dark, Gothic thriller that is utterly gripping but the author manages to combine a gruesome murder mystery with some Czech mythology and some fantastic historical details which combined makes for a completely enthralling read.

The author has created some brilliant, though rather sinister characters in this book which were great to read about. They all had a fascinating back story that helped to add to the atmosphere in the book. The ‘devil’s’six’ were particularly vividly described and sent a shiver down my spine whilst reading about them. Through them the reader is given the feeling that anything could happen and I felt on edge throughout the book wondering what was going to happen next.

This was a quite a fast paced book as there is lots going on and different themes running through the story to keep things very intriguing. I loved working out how everything was going to come together and learning more about Czech mythology which always fascinates me. There were lots of twists that took me by surprise with the ending being particularly shocking, tying everything up very nicely!

Huge thanks to Clara from Little Brown for my copy of this book and for inviting me onto the blog tour.
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The Devil Aspect is a visceral, dark, intelligent thriller that once it has hold of you doesn’t let go. If the novels of Caleb Carr and Thomas Harris had a dark love child this book would be it.

In the first few chapters there is a lot to take in, but I urge you to stick with it as it soon becomes a gloriously dark gothic thriller. The book is set in 1935 Czechoslovakia against a backdrop of the rise of Nazism and the impending war beyond its borders. It offers up an examination of the grisly motivations of six serial killers intertwined with equally dark and delicious Eastern European folk tales. And how do these relate to a Jack the Ripper copycat killer stalking the streets of Prague? The chilling finale will shock you.

An original, devilishly dark thriller ⭐️⭐️⭐️ three stars out of five
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Russell’s novel that has been written as a foray into the American Market combined a few threads meeting a range of experiences for the reader.. Suspense, thriller, horror, mental health , mythology, history and psychiatry.
Victor is an ambitious young psychiatrist who believes there is a ‘Devil Aspect within thecriminally insane. To this end he secures work at a supposedly impenetrable castle where 6 of the most dangerous killers are housed. He believes that within each killer there is a malevolent inner being and that can be accessed through the use of a very specific drug induced sleep taking them to the edge of life / death.
Concurrently in Prague the Police led by Inspecto Smolak are tryingvto solve a series of murders being done by the nicknamed Leather Apron whose atrocities mirror those of the infamous Jack The Ripper. Smolek  visits the castle to try and solve the murders and here the two lines start to come together and lead to the totally unexpected denouement.
The book is atmospheric and entertaining but Not for the feint hearted. It is also well researched carefully weaving the storylines with ancient mythology and the emerging political situation emerging at the time
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Hi Karen,
My Next review is:-

“The Devil Aspect”, written by Craig Russell and published in Hardcover by  Constable on 7th March 2019. 496 pages ISBN-13: 978-1472128355

During the final months of 1935, whilst Europe politically is getting ready for  the worse war ever experienced, six of the most terrible murderers ever known are to be imprisoned in a remote castle in rural Czechoslovakia. The murderers are collectively known as the “Devil’s Six” because when the most bizarre behaviour is exhibited in an individual, he or she is said to be often 
possessed by the devil.

A young psychiatrist Dr Viktor Kosarek, who uses revolutionary new techniques often involving hypnotism is recruited to investigate their individual dark secrets. He interviews each of the six and starts his courses of treatment.

A secondary strand of the plot is the behaviour of a terrible killer known as ‘Leather Apron’ who is killing people in a most brutal bloody way all across Prague.
In this deftly plotted, very absorbing thriller we get to find out the link between the “Devil’s Six” and ‘Leather Apron’. Be advised, however, this book is not for readers who are easily shocked as some of the scenes are very bloody and feature torture.    

The author has been a policeman and freelance writer before becoming a full time novelist. Craig Russell has been published since 2005 and has already been awarded several prizes for his novels. His work has been serialised on the radio and also turned into a TV programme, with movies planned for the near future as well.  This novel is not my first by this author and hopefully it won't be the last. He has written several books about Chief Commissar Jan Fabel set in Hamburg and is also writing another  series about a detective called Lennox set in Glasgow during the 1950s and I look forward to all of these.

My thanks go to the Publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. I read for review previously one of the authors Chief Commissioner Jan Fabel books set in Hamburg, Germany and I have also read his books about Lennox a Canadian private detective set in a 1950’s Glasgow which was the authors home town.

Best wishes,

Terry
(To be published on the eurocrime.co.uk blog in due course)
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First of all, a huge thank you to Clara Diaz and Constable, an imprint of Little Brown Publishers for getting in touch via email and providing me with a complimentary digital copy of The Devil Aspect via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. After reading that incredible synopsis, I couldn't help but be excited to read this novel, the first of Craig Russell's work that I've come across and now I've discovered him, definitely won't be the last. This fascinating and occasionally unsettling work of fiction is part historical, part crime and mystery, part thriller with a drop of horror thrown into this heady mixture of genres to make it a story that I still find myself thinking about weeks after finishing it.

You don't need to know anything extra about this novel save what is in the synopsis above. In fact, if you've already skipped the synopsis and headed straight to my thoughts, I might even boldly suggest that you go into this novel knowing as little as possible. This isn't because the synopsis gives away spoilers but because I read the synopsis a long while before I actually physically started the book and had forgotten much of what the novel encompassed. This meant that the juicy little surprises revealed throughout the narrative came as a welcome shock compared to if I had been overly familiar prior to starting my journey into Russell's delectable writing. All you really need to know is that it's the story of a psychiatrist in the 1930's who begins work at a Prague asylum harbouring incredibly dangerous prisoners who will never be released back into the general public. He is investigating new medicinal and hypnotic methods into unravelling the evil deeds that they have done with the hope that he can make them better people as a result.

That's The Devil Aspect in a nutshell. However, you can't really put this book into a nice little box and wrap a bow around it. It's about so much more than that. It explores the unpredictability of madness, the power of the human brain, the danger of psychopaths, the difference between evil and good and how folklore and superstition can be used against already fragile and vulnerable individuals to take advantage. It's definitely a thought-provoking read that made me consider how frightening the human mind can be, especially as we don't know half of what it's capable of OR how the terrifying way in which our memory can fail/change, sometimes without our conscious knowledge that it has occurred.I'm not usually too bothered about graphic events in a work of fiction but holy hell, some parts of this really were brutal - Russell definitely doesn't shy away from detail. I'm sure all I need to mention is Jack The Ripper for you the reader, to understand what I'm alluding to? As an aside, I would have been interested to see the fascist angle in this book to be explored in more depth however I completely understand why the author didn't do this. He has SO many irons in the fire with what he chooses to write about and perhaps another thread to the story would have been slightly too much to deal with. I was a perfectly willing and happy participant to the surprises and shocks I received throughout The Devil Aspect and will absolutely be seeking out more of the author's work.
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Set in Czechoslovakia in 1935 with the menacing shadow of Naziism growing daily, Craig Russell has presented us with a truly gothic horror of murder and madness.

Viktor Kosárek, a young psychiatrist has accepted a new position in a secluded high security asylum for the country's six worst serial killers. Built on a cliff top and surrounded by forest the Devil's Six as they are known are kept in strict isolation. Viktor, trained in Jungian psychology is convinced that each of them is harboring a 'devil aspect' to their personality which he is convinced he can find with a new technique in the hope that he can cure them. At the same time, a new serial killer, emulating Jack the Ripper is killing and eviscerating women in Prague. Detective Lukas Smolak is convinced this new killer has some connection to the Devil's Six.

The mix of anti-semitism and ethnic tensions, local mythology, madness and the ominous creepiness of the castle make for a very dark and brooding atmosphere. This is a long book and although well written and researched, I did find the first half of the novel a little slow and ponderous as Viktor draws out each of the patient's history and crimes. However the second half made up for that by being wholly engrossing and the twist of the plot was superb as Viktor finds more than he was looking for. A very dark tale indeed.
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gothic central european thriller, psychological treatment of serial killers at a prison in an old castle. Quite enjoyable.
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This was a thrilling read. The psychological aspect to the book was fascinating from the start. 

It was very well paced switching back and forth between the two primary characters. Each chapter left you wanting more and the ending was brilliant. 

I was equally happy and sad to how the story ends but ultimately a very fulfilling experience.
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This was a little too gruesome and gory for me I'm afraid - I had no idea I was such a wuss! It is well-written and has a great plot but I struggled with some of it and couldn't finish it I am afraid. Many thanks for the copy.
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I'm grateful to the publisher for a free advance e-copy of this book via NetGalley.

Czechoslovakia in the mid 1930s, and psychiatrist Dr Victor Kosárek is travelling to take up a new appointment at the Hrad Orlu asylum - where the most dangerous of the criminal insane, the "Devil's Six", each with a nickname (The Clown, The Vegetarian, The Glass Collector and so on) are confined in a medieval castle among the central European forest.  Meanwhile, Kapitán Lukáš Smolák of the Prague City Police patiently, methodically hunts down a serial killer - Leather Apron - who murders and butchers women in Prague.  Against a background of rising political tensions, as the Nazis in Germany stir up trouble among German Czechs and it becomes important to watch what you say and who you say it to, the young doctor struggles to understand the Six, treating them to a revolutionary new "therapy" - bringing them close to death with sedatives in search of their "Devil Aspect", the dark part of their psyche that holds clues to their evil behaviour.

I found this book impressive in many ways. From the opening scene, Russell plays with our expectations, exploiting the reader's familiarity with, or even just knowledge of, horror tropes. Take that opening scene. A doctor named Viktor. A "patient" in restraints. The isolated castle. It's hard not to see this as a reference to Frankenstein, just as, later in the book, the fear and hatred of the villagers for the castle and its inhabitants brings to mind Dracula. There's even a reference at one point to a mob of villagers hunting down what they think is a monster.

But the book also makes other connections - the comparison between that "Devil Aspect" in all of us, and the rising tide of evil and hour soon to swamp Europe, hardly needs to be pointed out. It's felt by Jewish Judith Blochová and expressed in nightmares of her and her family being led out into the forests to be killed. It's there in the attitudes of Nazi-sympathising staff at the asylum, whose proposals for the imprisoned criminals are easy enough to guess. And it's there when Kosárek and his friend Filip Starosta run into trouble one night with a group of Czech Germans.

The whole atmosphere - drawing deeply on Slavic mythology and European history, as well as an impressive deployment of Jungian psychology - is one of subtle menace, even before we are given graphic details the murders in Prague and told (via Kosárek's interviews) of the crimes of the asylum's residents, and before comparisons are made with jack the Ripper. I did begin to find that succession of crimes a little much. With six prisoners in the castle, all of whom have committed multiple murders, it's quite a lot to hear even if, thankfully, we generally get the setup rather than all the details. The Prague murders are fewer but we're told more about the killings and mutilations. On the whole I preferred the parts of the book that deal with the subtler threats - the suspicious villagers, the dancing bars with their political and ethnic tensions, even the distressed man who Kosárek encounters at the station after his friend fails to appear at the start of the book.

I also enjoyed the slyer aspects of the book such as Smolák's deputy who, while perfectly competent, is clearly waiting for him to fail, and in the meantime, trying to scatter a little doubt and suspicion around, or Judita's history, with her thwarted ambition to study medicine. If the book has any message it is, I think, to watch out for seemingly inconsequential things - dreams, coincidences, mistakes - and to join the dots.

So - on the whole a satisfyingly creepy horror/ psychological thriller, especially in the opening part, establishing that stressy atmosphere, and in the final third where the hunt for the killer really gets moving. Overall I think that in the middle part, more could have been made of the political aspects, and there could have been a bit less gore. But well worth reading if you like your horror a little different.
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An extremely atmospheric read.  A dark, chilling Gothic novel set in 1935’s Czechoslovakia.

We first meet Dr Viktor Kosarek, a 29 year old psychiatrist setting out to catch his train to his new job.  He is leaving Prague to work at The Hrad Orlu Asylum, where the only patients are those known as The Devil’s Six.  These six inmates have all committed atrociously violent and macabre murders and are kept under strict security. Viktor is very keen to start his new job and begin work to see if he can prove his theory he calls The Devil Aspect.

The asylum is in a small village about an hour outside Prague, housed inside a castle steeped in folklore and stories of death and murder.  There is a strong undercurrent in the story here and a dislike of anything to do with the castle is felt by the villagers.

At the same time, and back in Prague, a serial killer, known as The Leather Apron, is on the loose.  Possibly mimicking Jack The Ripper infilling terror and fear into the citizens of Prague.  Here we meet Kapitan Lucas Smolak (my favourite character of the book) in charge of the investigation.

The story unfolds extremely effectively introducing us to these two story lines.  The setting is superb, both in history and place and you can tell the author has been very thorough in his research.  We learn of the individual cases of those locked up in Hrad Orlu  and this is where it gets very dark indeed, with graphic horror stories like descriptions.  The research and true facts injected into these tales are very enjoyable. The suspense and growing fear and darkness is evident and makes for a very good read.

I liked the horror type twist at the very end and overall I found this a chilling read.  I hadn’t read anything else by this author before and liked the afterword at the end of the book.

This book was published this week. I received a copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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A dark and disturbing tale in a dark and disturbing setting, I really enjoyed this creepy historical thriller set in the years between the first and second world wars. The year is 1935, and in the countryside outside Prague the Hrad Orlu Asylum for the Criminally Insane welcomes a new doctor, Viktor Kosarek . Despite its setting in mountain top medieval castle, the facility offers cutting edge treatments to its violent inmates., and the new doctor is eager to pursue his theory of the Devil Aspect, an innate evil side that he hopes to investigate under sedation  in a type of hypnosis. The six infamous inmates will be his test subjects, and through them he hopes to confirm his hypothesis.. Meanwhile in the beautiful city of Prague below, a serial killer seems to be modelling himself on the infamous London murderer, Jack the Ripper, When a clue left behind at one of the crime scenes seems to implicate one of the asylum inmates, police inspector Lukas Smolak must visit , and hopes to use the expertise of the doctors to hep track down a deranged killer. 
This is one chilling, atmospheric book, the setting is perfect for the dark tale being told, and I particularly loved that elements of eastern European folklore were woven into the story. While not being a focus of the plot, there are several references to the political situation in that area and time, and these were deftly handled and woven into the book seamlessly to anchor the setting. The two ,main plot strands were each well handled and came together perfectly in the conclusion of the book. Characterization was also on point, each of the six inmates of the asylum had appropriately dark and disturbing back stories, but each had their own voice, and this attention to detail is another thing to admire about this well crafted  pager turner. 
I read and reviewed an copy provided by NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own
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The Devil Aspect is such a delicious thriller. A story about psychopaths and a serial killer on the loose. What's not to like? The time period in this book also adds much to the story since there is a big growing unease in Czechoslovakia and also a growing xenophobia. And now there is a serial killer loose as well. Amides all this is Dr. Viktor Kosárek taking up his new position as a psychiatrist for the so-called "Devil's Six". Six really nasty and dangerous psychopaths. 

This book was very fascinating to read, and of course, a bit bleak since the theme of the book is pretty dark. During the books progress do we get to know more about "Devil's Six" as Viktor Kosárek is trying to unlock their secrets. We also follow the police investigation in the hunt for the serial killer known as "Leather Apron". Kosárek himself gets involved in the case because of his job. There were moments closer to the end when I was starting to wonder how it would all end. The serial killer case seems to near its ending and I was unsure how it all would end up at the castle with all the psychopaths. It's here something brilliant happens. Something that I did not expect, at all! A twist that really makes me see past events in the book in a different way. I just have to say wow! That ending is so fabulous. This is definitely a thriller I recommend if you want to be astonished!
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