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Pandaemonium, By Christopher Brookmyre

Fiery stuff at the gates of Hell

Christopher Brookmyre has always been – to his credit – a bloody-minded contrarian. He has long relished tweaking the noses of the politically correct on the left, while delivering a sharp kick to those of a conservative bent. This stance is a cannily sugared pill, with his combination of sardonic, blackly comic writing and radical reinventions of the crime-fiction genre.

Pandaemonium, however, is something different, with the attractions of the crime novel replaced by something equally as seductive – if you have a taste for the outrageous. Cardinal Tullian is an enforcer for the Doctrine of the Faith, an unbending arm of the Church and descendant of the Inquisition. He has an enemy – a man as devoted to his scientific calling as the Cardinal is to his faith. Lucius Steinmeyer is in charge of a clandestine military establishment in an unvisited part of Scotland, and has opened an inter-dimensional gateway (to Hell itself?), making it possible for basilisk demons (complete with horns) to break through into our world.

With an invasion from Hades in the offing, the churchman brings all the accoutrements of exorcism (not to mention crucifixion) to bear. But the conflict between the two men has disastrous results: the base is closed down, the lab compromised and the gate to hell opened wide. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed.

If all of this sounds more than enough material for a novel that comes across as Stephen King rewritten by Terry Southern, Brookmyre adds still another element to his infernal stew. A party of students at a religious school, trying to cope with a death, are sent to a nearby secluded location for prayer and counselling. And while the teenagers ignore pious consolations – preferring drugs and sexual indulgence – they soon find they're in the firing line for the denizens of the netherworld. Bloody mayhem ensues. This is visceral stuff: not, perhaps, Brookmyre on top form, but brimming with the scabrous inventiveness that is his métier.