Book review: Poison City by Paul Crilley (Delphic Division #1)


To my shame, I’m not very clued up on the local [South African] speculative fiction scene, so when Paul Crilley’s Poison City first floated across my newsfeed as part of a giveaway I had no idea the story was set in South Africa. That and Goodreads’ advice that Crilley’s novel would appeal to Ben Aaronovitch fans was enough recommendation for me.

Poison City tells the story of Brit immigrant Gideon Tau and his adventures in the insidious and supernatural underbelly of Durban as a special investigator for the Delphic Division, the secret South African branch of the police who deal with things that go bump in the night (or orishas; beings of varying power, from low grunts to deities). Like every noir detective, Tau’s battling demons on more than the professional front, also having to deal with the death of his daughter and the subsequent unravelling of his marriage. When a case turns up involving a dead vampire, Tau and his boss Armitage are pulled into an Apocalyptic showdown.

Tau’s Durban is compelling and rich in atmosphere, and he paints it with a disenchanted lover’s hand: lovingly but unflinchingly. I’d have been content to read about Tau and the Delphic Division’s adventures till Kingdom come. But as the story progresses, Poison City veers into Philip Pullman/Neil Gaiman territory, into divine plots and Armageddon. Crilley’s take on (for lack of a better word) Christian mythology is interesting but tainted with an atheist’s biblical literalism. Still, I did finish the book in a day’s time, so I can’t fault it on intrigue.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Poison City
Author: Paul Crilley
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (2016)
Rating: 2.5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.03/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s atmospheric, blackly amusing and scathing towards the follies of authority and humanity. The bits with the dog are funny.
The worst feature of the book: The cynicism is wearing. Tau is a hotbed of white disenfranchisement wrapped in a slick black exterior.
Trigger warnings: Blasphemy of various intensity. Gore. Situations that allude to child abuse. General wickedness. Lots of South African slang. Unwise clothing choices on the part of the narrator.
You’ll like this if… You like this genre of fiction; you like Ben Aaronovitch, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman or Jim Butcher; you want to read something South African for a change.

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