Title: Faustus Resurrectus
Author: Thomas Morrissey
Published: 17 April 2012
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Genre: thriller, crime, fantasy, horror
Source: review copy from the publisher via NetGalley
Donovan Graham has just completed his Master’s Degree in Philosophical Hermeneutics, with a thesis on the Faustus legend. Philosophical hermeneutics, explains Donovan, is “the study of interpretation, but really it’s the search for truth. [...] Traditional hermeneutics studies interpretations of written works; religion, law, literature. Modern hermeneutics studies everything. That would be me, specializing in mythology and religion.”
Donovan’s studies make him a useful consultant in a police case involving two unusual murders with possible religious and mythological significance. Donovan quickly realises that the murders correspond to signs of the zodiac, as body parts corresponding to the star signs have been removed from each of the corpses. A serial killer named Cornelius Valdes is at work, and his murders are for the sake of a ritual that serves a larger, more sinister purpose.
Donovan works together with his mentor Father Maurice Carroll, and Sergeant Frank Fullam of the NYPD, to stop Valdes, but they’re largely unsuccessful. Valdes is resourceful, determined, and he has a monstrous, 7-foot tall henchman to aid him. He’s a man hell-bent on revenge, and to help him achieve that he plans to summon Dr Faustus, the scholar who sold his soul to devil in exchange for earthly knowledge and power.
Faustus Resurrectus is the debut novel of author Thomas Morrissey, and the first in a planned series featuring Donovan Graham. Donovan, I think, will make a nice protagonist for a series of occult thrillers. He’s part scholar, part man of action. He knows krav maga, he’s worked as a bouncer, and he rides a motorcycle. He currently works as a bartender in an upmarket restaurant, so we can probably assume he’s good at talking to people. And he’s got a sensitive side, as he shows when he’s with his fiancée Joann.
Of course, he also knows quite a bit about the occult, religion, mythology, and the Faustus legend in particular, as does his friend Father Carroll. Morrissey makes full use of this. The novel features loads of information about things like the materials used in rituals (from fertility rituals to Satanic ones), the symbolism behind the number 13, and the history of resurrecting people from the dead. Donovan and Father Carroll also discuss the Faustus legend on many occasions, quoting from both the Marlowe and Goethe versions of the story. It’s pretty cool.
Because the occult rituals themselves are so interesting, about half of the narrative is actually written from the perspective of the serial killer, Cornelius Valdes. In an odd co-incidence, ‘Cornelius’ and ‘Valdes’ were the names of two sorcerers who taught Faustus. Anyway, since we’re privy to the workings of the main villain, there isn’t all that much mystery to the novel, but it still makes a decent occult thriller. The story gets increasingly dark and twisted as Valdes progresses with insane schemes; readers with an aversion to violence and gore should avoid this one.
In keeping with the Faustus story, there are related themes about free will, faith and, most notably, the idea that reality is flexible. The latter comes up often, as characters struggle to deal with increasing intrusion of the paranormal into their world. This is partly what makes the investigation so difficult – the NYPD doesn’t exactly have a division that handles supernatural forces. Any suggestion of Satanic rituals immediately undermines Donovan’s credibility, and even he can’t quite believe what he finds sometimes. He and the others desperately need to adjust their ideas about reality, because although the story begins as a normal murder mystery but by the end it’s an apocalyptic fantasy horror (in the grotesque and gory way, not a scary one).
Then there’s the issue of free will. Donovan’s thesis “discussed predestination and free will in Marlowe—was Faustus destined to go to Hell, or was it his choices—his free will—that led him to ruin?” Donovan and other characters argue for free will – it is always our choices that either damn us or save us. One character argues that the essence of suffering is in knowing that our pain is caused by our own stupid, prideful choices.
There’s quite a bit of musing about faith, in yourself and in God, mostly from Father Carroll, who in my opinion has a tendency to get a little too preachy. In a recent interview though, Morrissey revealed that Father Carroll was actually the easiest character for him to write, because he uses Carroll to express his own ideals about faith. I’m grateful then, that Morrissey allows Donovan to temper Father Carroll’s words with his own, more sceptical views. If not, I think this novel might have come across as something of a religious lecture.
It certainly takes a very black and white approach to good and evil; there are no debates here about it being better to reign in hell than serve in heaven. Still, the clash between good and evil has always been a reliable source of entertainment, and it’s no different here. Faustus Resurrectus is a strong debut and a good read for those who like to dabble with the darkness. I look forward to more Donovan Graham novels from Thomas Morrissey.