He’s a skeleton in a black suit, wide-brimmed hat snapped down low over the eye-sockets. She’s a Dublin schoolgirl in love with danger who can spark fire from her fingertips and soar into the air unaided, leaving a ‘reflection’ of herself tucked up in bed so that her parents won’t worry when she’s out all night with a skeleton, killing vampires or consorting with Jack the Ripper. Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain – detective duo extraordinaire.
This is the second of the ‘Skulduggery Pleasant’ series. Here they are, saving the world again, this time from the scheming Baron Vengeous and his minions, with their evil plan to bring the Faceless Ones back from oblivion and – yes – to plunge civilisation as we know it into destruction. Skulduggery drives a 1954 Bentley R-Type Continental, the kind of vehicle you’d expect a cool, wise-cracking, fighting machine to own. He has a witty line in laconic dialogue and Valkyrie makes a feisty sidekick for him, but the problem is that all the other characters, good or bad, are two dimensional. It’s hard to care whether cardboard cut-outs live or die especially when, after two or three brawls, you know that the good guys are more than likely to win. A second difficulty is that most chapters, it seems, feature at least one punch-up or chase, sometimes two or three, and often not much else. Fights and Flights become tedious, especially when they are described in lengthy graphic detail. Superhero comics do it better; a couple of pictures, a swift one-liner or a POW! enclosed in a speech bubble give you the whole thing at a glance, and you race on to the next excitement. A 352-page novel about the world on the edge should offer its reader more light, shade and depth than a Spiderman escapade.