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Review: Infernal Justice

Infernal Justice audiobook cover. A man in a long coat strides away from a hellish city filled with demons.
Infernal Justice by N.P. Martin.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 8 hrs 29 mins.
Publisher: Dark World Press.

Infernal Justice, Ethan Drake Series, Book 1 by N. P. Martin is a gritty urban fantasy whose flawed antihero's only hope comes in the form of a fallen angel and a trash-talking unicorn.

Audible Summary: "In a lightless world, only darkness can drive out darkness. My name is Ethan Drake and I’m a police detective... And I got plenty darkness to give. 

So does my partner, who’s a demon, and frankly, a royal pain in my ass. But occult investigators are in short supply in the PD, so what are you going to do? Anyway, we just caught a body-snatching case that has the stench of occult workings all over it. Seems someone wants to summon something bad into this world, something that threatens the very fate of humanity. I could[n't] care less about the fate of humanity myself, but hey, when it’s your job, you gotta do something, right?
Only my job has been made harder by a demon who’s decided it wants me as a vessel, and will stop at nothing until it gets what it wants. Internal affairs are also gunning for my badge over the murder of some guy who deserved it, and on top of that, I’m trying to solve the murders of my ex-wife and daughter. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the snarkiest Hellicorn in the known universe... You know that thing threatening all of humanity? I might just let it succeed....

©2019 Neal Martin (P)2019 Neal Martin."

Content Warning: Child loss is a central theme, with graphic flashbacks to his daughter's death.

Ethan Drake is an ex super-soldier security enforcer turned cop, who finds himself still battling the same demons and frequently outside of the law. Making use of all the bodily upgrades he received in his previous occupation, working for the notorious Blackstar, it takes more than just his cutting-edge biotech like steel knuckles, and arms enhanced with werewolf bone, to keep the city safe. For lurking in every shadow - and most high ranking offices - are the MURKS; "Monsters, Unnaturals, Reapers, and Killers/K**ts".

We meet Drake as he is called to investigate a grave-robbing, and - in a nice nod to D.C - the corpse that goes missing is that of convicted murderer Barbara Keane, and the SOCO we find processing her grave is named Gordon. It soon becomes clear that this is not the only way Infernal Justice harks back to D.C Comics, as it seems there's a fair bit of (one of my favourite Legends), Constantine, in the inspiration for Drake. Ethan lacks John's roguish charm, however, and in many ways is less anarchic than D.C's introspective 'punk' hellraiser. Drake may not like taking orders, but treats the job and its regulations as a necessary evil that affords him much-needed structure and some legitimacy. Despite that, Ethan is too lost in his own darkness in this book to really shine the way Constantine - or most of the infamous antiheroes of popular culture - do. Drake is at an exceedingly bleak point in his life following the loss of his family, and that informs his choices and his perspective.

As such, this book is quite graphic in places. If you like to listen to audiobooks in your lunch break this is not the book for you. There's rather a lot of evisceration, which is meant to be shocking but I've seen more of my insides than most of the bloodied victims did in their final moments, so the novelty has long since worn off. But if you haven't been taught how to cough while holding the tattered remnants of your own abdomen together after surgery, then you might find those scenes more unsettling. Especially if you ever want to cook raw sausages again.

I enjoyed Martin's storytelling, and it takes some skill to help the reader (or listener) care about a character who isn't sure whether or not he really cares about himself - or anything else - anymore. The writing is a bit clunky in places with lots of repetition in certain scenes and more than a few clich├ęs, but it doesn't detract from the story, it just adds to the sense that Ethan rubs you up the wrong way and is a bit of an irritant, like the nucleus in an oyster that eventually forms the pearl.

Lines like "If you decide to come for me, you better be ready for a whole world of pain, because right now, I got a lotta f*cking pain to give." remind me more of 80s hard-man films or Eastenders' Mitchell Brothers parodies than contemporary urban fantasy, but, as I said, Ethan's no everyman.

The Hellicorn provided some much-needed levity, albeit of a very dark kind, and I hope he features in the rest of the series.

My only real gripe was one that is so prevalent in sci-fi and fantasy books that I'm more surprised when it's not an issue than when it is. Disappointingly, none of the female characters were anywhere near as well-developed as the men, and many conformed to distinct negative stereotypes. (Three out of six of the mothers who feature in the series were prostitutes or gangland mistresses, there was a teenage girl with a few lines but most of them were vacuous or about Twilight, and even Ethan's partner, Hannah Walker, was more notable for her ethnicity and drug problem than for being a demon.

And, of course, no male fantasy author can have an "Asian girl" in their story without mentioning her petite stature and small breasts when things get intimate! This alone may not seem like much, but earlier in the book an ignorant teen had already given her the backhanded compliment that she was "really pretty for an Asian girl", and then it's revealed that she's actually only half Japanese. I'm no expert, nor do I have any personal experience of racial discrimination or stereotyping, but I can imagine the combination might seem a little ill-judged to anyone with a background that's more like Hannah's than my own, where lighter skin and more Western features have often been favoured or idealised. It's great to see some diversity in fantasy, but considering how much effort has been made to give Drake's character some nuance that straddles the veil between 'good' and 'evil', it would have been nice if Walker's character bio ticked a few more boxes than a pornhub search filter.

Admittedly, the men in this book aren't healthy role models either. Nobody's winning father of the year, and even the 'good guys' are weak and crooked. Ethan himself has a very flexible moral code, but despite his reliance on an illicit substance to function, his habit isn't treated with as much scorn as 'junkie' Hannah's. The men may not be heroes, but they're not all simple stereotypes, either. Hopefully this will improve as the series progresses, as there were a lot of characters to introduce in this book and it's inevitable that some come out of that process better than others. As Hannah finds her footing in the mortal realm, it will be interesting to see if her supernatural strength is reflected in her personality as well as by her growing abilities.

That said, none of the characters are really likeable; nor are they meant to be. Drake's perspective was stark and melancholic, ruled by grief and dampened by the Mud, and his work brought him into contact with not only the worst of humanity, but some of Hell's less favourable offerings, too. Despite his antihero status, he does have a code of honour driving him to pursue justice; he's just not very particular about how it is achieved. He's probably happier setting his small army of pet pervert-demons onto a criminal than arresting them, yet he clings to his badge like a Shield of Faith. It makes him an interesting protagonist because it's never easy to judge what he'll do next or how he will react to any given situation.

This was my first audiobook narrated by Brian Wiggins, but I enjoyed his performance and felt that he had a good pace and tone to his voice. The slightly flattened, hollow tinge to the voice he gives Drake anchors the performance in grief and speaks of a man whose torment has exhausted his spirit.

The disgusting and recalcitrant hellb**tards were great fun, and the somewhat camp voice Wiggins gave Scroteface was nicely creepy and inhuman. They reminded me a little of the Worms from Men In Black , though much darker, muck ickier, and nowhere near as well house-trained. I wasn't overly fond of the loud, echoey, warped sound effect when Drake was communicating telepathically with the hellb**tards. It made my head feel like I was communing with a demon, too, which was effective but is unpleasant if you have any kind of cognitive sensitivity or migraines. Thankfully it was used sparingly, though does occur sporadically throughout the book.

I'd recommend this to anyone who is looking for a new fantasy crime series and is happy with a hero who not only gets his hands dirty but accrues a few nasty stains on his soul as well.

3.5 Stars for this one have been rounded up to 4 because I liked the narrator and the world-building, and enjoyed the book enough to keep an ear out for book 2.

*I received this audiobook free of charge in the hope of an honest, unbiased review.

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