The sequel to Jonathan Whitelaw’s 2018 novel HellCorp, The Man in the Dark finds The Devil still unable to take his holiday. As in HellCorp, The Devil is tasked by God with solving a crime to earn some time off, although this time it is a kidnapping rather than a murder. Finding himself stuck on Earth in the body of one of the prime suspects in the case, The Devil has his work cut out for him convincing DS Laurie he is who he says he is. But, while the cat is away the mice of hell will play, as the infamous Roman traitors, Brutus and Cassius, start taking matters of the afterlife into their own hands…
For a book dealing with the creator of the universe and the incarnate of evil, HellCorp felt lightweight in elements demonstrating the ancient, supernatural nature of God and The Devil. The Devil notably seemed a rather squeamish, lacklustre lord of darkness, almost entirely disconnected from human affairs. He is unable to read, has never seen a dead body before, and doesn’t seem to understand that simply telling people he is The Devil won’t make them believe him.
However, The Man in the Dark handles its eponymous antihero far better. While still clueless about a few elements of human interaction, The Devil feels more, well, devilish. His inhuman nature is able to shine through as increasingly unnatural things begin to happen to and around him, and his lack of knowledge about more mundane matters is beautifully evident in the first chapter, where he is so caught up in his own frustration he fails to notice that the Pope is dead.
However, there are a few issues with The Man in the Dark, mostly in the editing department. The novel feels like it could have done with one more read through just to polish and refine a few rough edges with regards to grammar and sentence flow. HellCorp had similar minor problems, and while they don’t detract from the plot, they do leave the reader feeling almost disappointed that such consistently small niggles weren’t picked up on. Aside from this, the only other downside is a tendency to tell rather than show — notably with the riots in London, a few chapters in.
Nevertheless, the dynamic between The Devil and God is one of the best parts of the book. While they don’t agree on much, it’s clear that they enjoy their conversations, even if they would never admit this to each other or themselves. Some of The Devil’s other most compelling scenes are the ones he spends with other characters; the strongest of which is with Matilda, Laurie’s daughter. This short scene sees The Devil and Matilda watching cartoons at midnight and is undoubtedly one of the book’s high points.
Overall, The Man in the Dark is a fun foray into a theological ‘what if?’ scenario. It’s a book that doesn’t demand much of the reader; instead, asking them to just let go and have a bit of fun — because that’s certainly what it’s doing.