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The Devil’s Playground – Book Review

This month’s book review is of The Devil’s Playground by Craig Russell. It’s got a cool cover, an intriguing premise and is written by an established author. So, without further ado, let’s dive in.

Summary of The Devil’s Playground

“The Devil’s Playground” unravels the mystery of a cursed 1920s silent film, rumoured to be the most terrifying ever made. Hollywood fixer Mary Rourke investigates the shadowy death of Norma Carlton, a star linked to the film, while journalist Paul Conway, decades later, seeks the film’s lost copy—a cinema buff’s Holy Grail. This narrative exposes a world of secrets and constructed identities through Hollywood’s Golden Age.

A Book Driven by Skillful and Compelling Writing

The novel effortlessly transitions between different locations and times. Russell’s strength shines in his vivid descriptions of the Louisiana Bayou in the 1890s and the Mojave Desert in the 60s, making these settings stand out against the backdrop of 1920s Hollywood. Despite being the main setting, Hollywood feels less memorable, perhaps due to its characters adhering too closely to their archetypical roles, such as the untouchable movie stars and the rule-breaking investigator.

While authentic, the portrayal of 1920s Hollywood and its characters sometimes veers towards pastiche, making them less intriguing. The author’s attempt to add depth to Mary Rourke with a dark past event doesn’t significantly impact her actions within the plot, diminishing its potential effect on the narrative.

An Occult Novel Rather Than a Magical One

I came to this novel while searching the urban fantasy section of Amazon, which is probably not where it should sit. It’s more of a straight mystery stained with murky occultism than an urban fantasy, with magic a dark presence in the background rather than a key part of the world-building.

This wasn’t a problem, and I found having this dark air of mystery surrounding the magic as glimpsed by non-magical people compelling. But it’s worth bearing in mind if you are looking for more of a straight urban fantasy.

A Fun, Straight Forward, Mystery

At the heart of The Devil’s Playground is the mystery of what happened to the Hollywood star Norma Carlton. Our protagonist here is Mary Rourke, who is doggedly on the hunt for the truth. If that last line sounded a little plain then it reflects the investigation. From the reader’s perspective, it’s more of a ‘how-done-it’ than a ‘who-done-it’, as you will probably figure out the core mystery fairly before the protagonist.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any twists and turns to surprise you along the way, as there were certainly developments that surprised me. However, these tended to be connected to the main mystery rather than central to it.

That being said, I enjoyed the novel enough that I didn’t mind being a little ahead of the characters at times.

Why I Would Recommend The Devil’s Playground

Because it’s a good book and a compelling read. I feel that I’ve qualified a lot of my praise for this book in my review, and pointed out some of its possible flaws, but that’s just because I want you to go into reading it with your eyes wide open. It’s not perfect, and maybe isn’t as smart as it presents itself as, but it is a lot of fun. Especially if you are a fan of classic Hollywood noir.

Buy it on Amazon.

About the Author

Graham Sim

Graham Sim hails from North East England, where he divides his time between his wife and kids, and his love of urban fantasy, noir mysteries, and science fiction.

You can read his first book, the urban fantasy noir ‘Screaming in the Shadows’ here.

Graham promises he only refers to himself in the third person in his author bio. He’s odd, but not that odd.

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