PRIEST OF LIES by Peter McLean (Book Review)
Priest of Lies by Peter McLean is a great follow up to Priest of Bones that drags our protagonist deeper into the mired politics of Ellinburg, expands on the nature of the Queen’s Men and what it means to be working for one, introduces us to the city of Dannsburg and its opulence and shows us a healthy dose of good old-fashioned ultra violence.
“Five hundred corpses. That had been my wedding gift from Ailsa and the Queen’s Men. From the woman I called my wife.”
Not bad for the first line of the book, am I right?
In this second instalment we see Tomas grow into his role as a man of society and discover just where he sits on the totem pole, his marriage to Ailsa requiring him to step into the higher echelons of public life, forcing him to adapt or die. It’s an excellent development and pushes Tomas to have a greater ambition than just staying in power as the low level boss he is. It also gives McLean the chance to stretch his wings and he does just as brilliant a job showing us the glitz and glamor his world can contain as he does when shoving us deep into the stink and making us feel like we need a wash. His writing is clean, direct and straight to the point with little time for flourishes or finding grandiose parallels, and he doesn’t mince his words when it comes to calling out someone behaving in a manner that could be described as cuntish.
A lot of the focus of this book is on motivation; what moves us, what inspires us and what terrifies us, because at the end of the day it all comes down to control – or, as Tomas likes to put it, ‘levers’. A way to move something or someone with efficient use of energy and resources to achieve the maximum result. Tomas is obsessed with the levers that move people because he knows his ability to find them and use them is quite possibly his greatest strength as a boss and the reason he has stayed in charge while others have failed around him. Whether it is the men under his charge, his enemies across the road, or the folks he says he serves, there is an underlying sense that in every conversation he participates in, he has a clear goal of figuring out how he can manipulate a person or events in his own favour. It’s a constant reminder that no matter how much we like Tomas, like Tony Soprano, he is a vicious son of a bitch who will kill anyone who gets in his way.
One of the major themes of Priest of Lies is the level of control characters have over the battle shock they are feeling after the war they have all returned from. Most of the major characters experience severe PTSD at some stage during the book, and how they handle that moment changes with each character. One tears the throat out of an opponent with his teeth, one explodes in maniacal laughter and one faints and loses his balance. It’s a fucking lotto and the randomness of when it will strike, how it will strike and how the victim will react makes it all the more real and terrifying. It’s a really interesting choice and one that does not get enough focus in any genre, as more often than not the emotional and personal aftereffects of battle are completely ignored in favour of showing mass righteous celebration or heart-wrenching defeat.
It was never going to be an easy task to top the five star Priest of Bones, and to be completely honest I don’t think I can call this a better book than the first. New characters that show promise don’t seem to stick around very long, and supporting characters from the first book are sidelined, with favourites like Bloody Anne, Simple Sam and Cutter getting mentions and brief appearances but not enough actual screen time. Finally, the phrase ‘as I have written’ is used so many times it started forcibly ejecting me from the story. All of these are personal quibbles and not necessarily faults of the book or the writing. In fact, I put down a book I’ve been waiting months to read so that I could jump into this one and not for a second did I question whether I’d make it to the end. I rather think these stresses are imposed on the story because it is a quick and brutal 350 pages and not a more ambling 500.
Priest of Lies by Peter McLean is an enigma. It manages to be light and dark, clean but dirty, harsh but fair, full of love and equally full of death. It’s an awesome story, one that grabs you from the first line and doesn’t let go until the finale when it slams you to the ground. I can’t wait for the next chapter.
Thanks to the wonderful people at AceRocBooks for sending me a copy. It did not affect the contents of my review.