Felix Castor is a freelance exorcist, and London is his stamping ground. At a time when the supernatural world is in upheaval and spilling over into the mundane reality of the living, his skills are in desperate demand. A good exorcist can charge what he likes - and enjoy a hell of a life-style - but there's a risk: sooner or later he's likely to take on a spirit that's too strong for him. Then it's game over.
Castor has been 'retired' for a year or more after a close encounter that he only just survived. But now old debts - of more than one kind - draw him back to the life he rejected, and he accepts a seemingly simply exorcism. Trouble is, the more he discovers about the ghost in the archive, the more things refuse to add up - and the more deeply he's dragged into a world he really doesn't want to know about. What should have been a perfectly straightforward job is rapidly turning into the Who Can Kill Castor First Show, with demons, were-beings and ghosts all lining up to claim the big prize.
But that's OK; Felix Castor knows how to deal with the dead. It's the living who piss him off ...
I think that this must be the second in the series in that the plot refers to backstory that isn't fully explained (particularly Felix's relationship with Rafi/Asmodeus and the relationship between Felix and his brother, a priest who makes a very brief appearance). Saying that, Carey writes in a way that you can fill in the blanks for yourself so that this doesn't spoil your enjoyment.
I find Carey's alternative London, full of ghosts and zombies to be fascinating and I've never seen anything like his take on were-creatures before (essentially, they're ghosts that bind animal flesh to themselves to form a human shape). He skillfully uses Felix Castor's first person perspective to help navigate through this world and Castor's distinctive voice easily makes you buy into what is happening.
The central mystery to the story revolves around a veiled ghost haunting a documentary archive in central London. From a benign start the ghost has started to attack some of the employees and the curator wants it exorcised as quickly as possible. The problem is that Castor has been warned that getting involved in the case could kill him and as he tries to work out who the ghost is and why she's haunting the building, he discovers links with a sinister underworld criminal who brings new meaning to the word 'ruthless' and also to rogue exorcists who are taking their art to frightening levels.
There is some padding to the story - notably a scene where Castor visits Bunhill Row cemetary to try and center himself, which doesn't add a great deal. Strictly speaking, I think that the beginning of the story (where Castor is performing as a magician for a childrens' party) is an obvious way to crowbar in one plot strand aimed at fleshing out the mystery. It's entertaining but I wonder if Carey could have achieved the same effect in a different way.
I also thought that some of the characters were a little cardboard cut out. For example, the main villain has evil written through him like a stick of rock, which kind of takes away some of the mystery element, and makes the ending a little predictable. This is particularly disappointing when Castor himself is such a multi-levelled character - a reluctant hero who's not entirely comfortable with what he does.
I'm surprised to find this book labelled as a horror novel, when to me it seemed to be quintessential urban fantasy. There are some disturbing moments - notably with the succubus Juliet but the description isn't excessively gory and does fit in with the plot. All in all it's a good, solid read and with enough dark humour to keep you wryly chuckling.
An entertaining read, and whilst it's padded in places, it's padding that adds to an understanding of the narrator's character and world. This is definitely a series to keep an eye on.