Think of Jack, the first person narrator of David Devereux’s Hunter’s Moon, as James Bond with a wand as well as a Walther PPK; a magical double-oh agent with a license to kill. Jack (if that really is his name) works for a shadowy section of M15 who use magicians and witches as well as more traditional tools like murder, blackmail and torture to rid Britain of enemies of the state.
Hunter’s Moon reminds me of some really old, cold-war vintage secret agent books, like Ian Fleming’s work and American offerings like Matt Helm. It has a post-9/11 sensibility, however, that is probably better echoed in some of the grittier television programs of the last decade, such as 24 or the British show Strike Back. Jack and his crew are fine with murder, mutilation, torture, sexual humiliation, and presumably a fairly high rate of collateral damage if it is needed to get the job done. They are protecting England from the whack-jobs who try to open doors to other dimensions at Glastonbury and Stonehenge, and also the more focused magic practitioners who are using their skills for terrorism or political subversion of some sort.
In this adventure, Jack is assigned as back-up to a female agent who has infiltrated a group called the Enlightened Sisterhood, a coven of witches who are part of a conspiracy to assassinate the British Prime Minister. Annie, the deep-cover agent, is green as grass and Jack has some concerns about the assignment. It appears there is an outer circle to the Sisterhood, and a privileged Inner Circle who are in on the scheme. Jack takes steps to eliminate one of the inner-circle members so that Annie is promoted. After that, things go suddenly wrong. After a night of wild sex with Jack, Annie disappears and so does the rest of the Sisterhood.
I really like the magic in this book. The magical implements Jack uses are tools, part of his “kit” (a word Devereux overdoes). There are no vampires, werewolves, zombies or ghouls here, but there are ghosts — Jack drinks with one. There is powerful sex magic, the ability to call up demons, and an artifact that “downloads” a person’s entire life into the mind of the holder and then vaporizes the victim’s soul. And there is one really cool thing that Jack can do — he can think “invisible thoughts,” and people will walk right past him, not seeing him. Jack is deadpan about his rituals, the incense, lines in salt, chanting in Latin, eating a human heart as it beats its last… it’s just another day on the job.
Surprisingly, it is this mundane “job” that gives Devereux some problems. The characters who support Jack are conventional to the point of cliché: the newbie agent, the handler who is a bean-counter and cannot understand what it’s like “in the field,” the up-and-coming investigator from a rival agency. Jack oscillates between the rebellious lone-wolf agent and the jaded professional. Devereux is trying to make him be both, and in Hunter’s Moon he isn’t quite successful.
Midway through the book, Jack thinks to himself that the part the Sisterhood plays in the assassination plan seems too showy and ultimately unnecessary. He is right. Once Annie and the group disappear, the book is never really about stopping the conspiracy; it’s more about finding Annie and killing the two ringleaders of the Sisterhood. Somehow, this is never quite suspenseful, or serious, enough to justify some of what Jack and his team do. Usually in techno-thrillers, the main characters make choices that narrow their alternatives, and often are cut off from their support networks. Jack is never without his toys, magical or high-tech, or his team. Still, the magic is interesting enough that even when the tension slackened I kept reading.
There is a lot of sex and dominance, not played for pleasure. Jack sexually degrades two women, and watches on DVD the sexual programming of another one by the Sisterhood. In the interest of fair play, Jack is also imprisoned and sexually dominated by the villain towards the end of the book. Some of the sexual material is meant to be funny, I’m sure, but I was uncomfortable in a couple of places.
I mentioned the word “kit” getting used a lot. Devereux also uses a peculiar locution for eating and drinking; Jack says he “threw (something) down my neck,” several times. The first time it caught my attention and by the seventh or eighth time I was starting to gag. This might just be me.
If you like your magical secret agent novels gritty, cynical and procedural, Devereux is your man and Hunter’s Moon is the book for you. This isn’t quite my cup of tea, but there were many things I enjoyed and couple of bits I loved: “thinking invisible thoughts,” and Jack sharing a drink with his dead and lonely spectral friend, who watches the Goth kids shag in the graveyard for entertainment.