In her Detective Inspector Chen novels, or at least the two that Iíve read, Liz Williams has created a wonderful tableau of science fiction and fantasy, bringing together Heaven and Hell, demons and various deities, and created intriguing characters to go along with the whole thing. The Demon and the City, her second Chen novel, continues the excellence that Snake Agent achieved, though itís not quite as good as the first book. While I normally donít mind a slow pace if everything else in the novel holds my interest, a few too many moments dragged for my taste. Even so, this is a must-read series if you have any interest in the subject.
The demon Zhu Irzh, recently re-assigned from Hell to be Chenís partner on the Singapore Three police force, is having a difficult time of it. Heís bored, heís lonely, and Chen has gone off to Hawaii with his demon wife for a much-needed vacation. Thus, heís has to deal with the police bureaucracy and anti-demon prejudice without Chenís interference. When a murdered renegade heiress turns up, heís chomping at the bit to begin the investigation that leads to the beautiful head of an extremely powerful drug manufacturing company, Jhai Teserai, a woman who holds many secrets of her own. Intrigued, Zhu Irzh finds her irresistible despite the fact that she might be implicated in the whole thing. Is this part of some sinister plan from Hell to further influence the ďrealĒ world, or is something more Heavenly involved? What will Teseraiís questionable experiments unleash - and will Chen return in time to save Zhu Irzh from himself?
My favorite character in the first book was Zhu Irzh, so I began the book reveling in the fact that Iíd get some one-on-one time with him, without Chen in the picture, to see how he interacted with other characters. Sadly, while heís still very interesting, some of these scenes at the beginning arenít as good as they could have been; I realized that it is the byplay between the two characters that I really love. I do enjoy Zhuís attitude toward everything, and how his reflections on his few months on the force and outside of Hell ultimately result in him concluding that he just needs a girlfriend. Who knew sex was the cure-all for everything thatís bothering you? I guess if youíre a demon, it can be.
Williamsí characterizations are fantastic once more, and these slow parts are few and far between. Williams has brought together a collection of interesting characters, from Chen and Zhu Irzh, to Teserai and her secrets, and many others, writing them all with wit and intelligence not only in their dialogue but also in her narration. When Paravang, the Feng Shui dowser, calls his motherís spirit back because he needs the money that he has been providing her, he quickly discovers that death hasnít stilled her ability to chatter:
ďParavang thought that it was a good thing that his mother was already dead, because otherwise he would surely have slain her. She had now been a resident at his little apartment for a day and the fact that she no longer needed to draw breath was severely evident.Ē
In the process of the story, we learn a lot about the world these characters live in. We actually get to visit Heaven, if only briefly, and discover the true hierarchy there, as well as spending more time in the Night Harbor, where souls go to be processed. Williamsí imagination is quite vivid in this sense, but we also see the science fiction elements in some of the experiments that Teseraiís company is performing. The prose once again makes you feel like youíre living in this world, from the oppressive heat in some areas to the ethereal atmosphere of the Night Harbor and the terrors within certain districts, where some souls who are trapped congregate and prey upon others.
The only other thing that mars this otherwise excellent novel is its climax. The entire plot culminates in a nightmare of destruction and a rampage that destroys not only parts of the city but also the energy lines that criss-cross it. It seems over-the-top, not fitting with the rest of the novel. While Williams does allow her characters to shine through this destruction for the most part, they are too often subjugated to the action and the book begins to drag again. I much preferred the lower-key ending of Snake Agent, even with the possibility of mass death hanging over it.
Overall, though, The Demon and the City is a fitting second novel in the series, imparting more information about the main characters and the world they inhabit as well as telling a great story. There are enough twists and turns to keep the book from becoming predictable, and while the ending isnít as compelling as it could be, itís nonetheless a great book. I look forward to reading the next two.