"The devil is in the details" is an aberration of the original saying, "God is in the detail." The latter phrase, which isn't used much anymore, is an urge for thoroughness, for proceeding with care, intention, and attention in anything you do. The former, still in popular usage, is a warning that cautious, godly examination of that minutia will reveal unforeseen antagonism. Taken together, these two idioms inadvertently reveal the dilemma of our place in the world, as well as the dilemma at work in Stephen Michell's first novel, Only the Devil is Here.
Six-year-old Evan witnesses the merciless killing of his foster parents and is then abducted by the mysterious killer. It's for his own protection, his kidnapper, a man name Rook, assures him. There will be others coming for the boy.
The devil being in the details, "man" doesn't quite describe Rook.
"You think you see a man when you look at me," he tells the boy, who can still smell his foster mother's hair on the man's hands, "but you don't. I'm something much more. I'm faster and stronger than any normal man. If you hurt me, I'll barely feel it. If you knock me down, I'll get right up. If you run from me, I will always find you. Trust me now when I tell you that I am like no other thing in this world."
Though he may be an efficient killer, Rook is no liar. As they flee, Evan still his reluctant captive, the pair are pursued by the conventional authorities, but also by otherworldly forces that gradually convince the boy that Rook does mean to protect him. Rook's means of protection, too, serve to convince Evan that he also wasn't lying about being something much more. But as Evan begins to wonder about Rook's true nature, he also begins to wonder about his own. Who is his protector and why he would need protecting?
Only the Devil is Here is a breathless debut that moves too fast to accommodate bulky backstory. As such, the true nature of the characters, their origins or intentions, are only ever glimpsed. Who's good? Who's evil? Is the division between one and the other really so neat? Michell keeps the details--the idiomatic abode of both God and the Devil--elusive. It's in that murky moral unknown that Only the Devil is Here thrives.