When fallen angels place wagers, human souls are used as currency in this psychological thriller.
The personification of Death, the angel Azrael, is dispensing therapy as Allister Boone, psychiatrist. Not caring whether he helps a patient means he specializes in tough love: “Name one thing…that you dislike about yourself.” He’s only working as a psychiatrist in the service of a bet with fellow dark angel Time. Collaborating since Earth’s creation, they seek to prove if one has power over the other. The game revolves around mortals. Time sends patients to Death with suicidal urges. In the guise of Allister, Azrael attempts to divert their fates. Time tells Azrael: “Let’s see how many lives you can save…while I work against you to end them.” Time will collect a point for “any death involving the suicide of one of” Allister’s patients. But the game’s rules become blurred when other angels, dark and light, make complex deals with one another to exert influence on the contest. Lucifer eventually warns Death: “Time is the dirtiest of all players, Azrael; he’ll do anything to win.” Allister can read his patients’ minds but he fails to be shocked into action by a planned murder-suicide of a whole family. His secretary, Nancy, admonishes him: “Even one death you don’t try to stop, and you can lose everything.” Azrael begins to question how impartial he really is, and whether he can truly stand as witness to humanity’s destructive impulses. “Inspired by a true story,” Tacuski’s (Dirty Eden, 2012) tale displays some fine points, such as fluid dialogue, fully realized secondary characters, and a surprising twist ending that doesn’t court incredulity. The macabre game rules are unique, albeit a bit confusing. But a few elements are eerily similar to other pop-culture offerings. The overall conceit draws obvious comparisons to Netflix’s Lucifer and its source material. Allister’s inner monologues resemble the ones in the Dexter TV series and books. A major childhood trauma brings to mind The Silence of the Lambs. This may just prove the popularity of psychological thrillers, but many readers will find it difficult to be truly shocked by Allister’s actions when it feels like oft-trodden ground. Still, this grim story should please genre fans.
In this somewhat familiar tale, a confrontational psychiatrist infuses therapy with menace to the delight of thriller enthusiasts.